Column: COVID-19 testing

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 18th September:

Over recent weeks, we have seen a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases both here in Barnsley and across the country.

It’s a reminder that this pandemic is far from over.

It’s a reminder of the importance of continuing to follow the expert scientific guidance: washing hands regularly, maintaining social distancing, and wearing a mask on public transport, in shops, and in busy public places.

And it’s a reminder, sadly, of the problems we have experienced with the test, track and trace system in recent weeks.

The World Health Organisation has consistently said that we must ‘test, test, test’ in order to find cases of the virus and break chains of transmission, while around the world, the countries that have had the most success in tackling this virus are those who have undertaken extensive contact tracing.

But here in the UK, we have all seen the stories of people struggling to get tests.

I’ve seen the impact of this recently too, with a local mum contacting me to highlight that she has struggled to get a test for her son here in Barnsley, with the Government system instead offering tests in Bolton, Oldham, Inverness or Edgbaston.

With her son already missing six months of schooling during lockdown, he is now stuck in limbo, unable to get tested and unable to return to the classroom.

Sadly, stories like this are becoming the norm.

Meanwhile, when people can get a test, and test positive, they are confronted with a privatised track and trace system which struggles to trace people in sufficient numbers.

Throughout this crisis, the Labour Party will work constructively with the Government where possible – we recognise that a national crisis demands a national effort.

And we have seen how localised testing can be rapidly deployed when there is a spike in infections, as happened in Wombwell last month.

But we are now approaching autumn and winter, when the scientific consensus is that transmission of the virus will be easier, and there are clearly issues with capacity in the testing system which must be addressed.

I have previously written to Matt Hancock to highlight the importance of localised testing and proper support for test and trace, and this week in Parliament, I raised these issues directly with the Health Secretary again.

I highlighted the difficulties local residents have faced with access to testing here in Barnsley, and pushed him to sort out these problems urgently.

Ahead of this difficult winter period, I will continue to do what I can, in Parliament and locally, to support our community and keep local residents safe.