Welsh government loans English NHS four million Covid tests to relieve shortage

Welsh government loans English NHS four million Covid tests to relieve shortage
Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford says Wales will share its ‘significant’ stockpile with England

The Welsh government has agreed to loan English NHS four million Covid test kits to help relieve a shortage.

Speaking on Thursday, first minister Mark Drakeford said Wales had a “significant stock” of lateral flow tests and was willing to share – amid pressure on supplies.

It comes after UK health secretary Sajid Javid said a shortfall of kits caused by surging demand and supply chain issues could last weeks.

In a letter sent to MPs, Mr Javid admitted that “huge demand” meant there would be a “need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply”.

Mr Javid was urged by his Labour opposite number on Thursday night to prioritise available tests for key workers – similar to the approach taken in Scotland.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said in a letter that the government should put “the workers we have relied upon for the past two years to the front of the queue and do everything you can to prevent a staffing shortage crisis in our NHS”.

He added that the prime minister’s advice for the public to get tested before attending parties on New Year’s Eve was running up against the fact that “tests have been unavailable in much of England for the past few days”.

In his own statement on Wednesday, Mr Drakeford said: “Demand for PCR tests and for lateral flow devices continues to rise and has reached new record levels.

“Wales has a significant stock of lateral flow tests, sufficient to meet our needs over the weeks ahead.”

The Welsh Labour chief added: “The Health Minister has agreed today to loan a further four million such tests to the English NHS, bringing that mutual aid to 10 million lateral flow tests.

“Distribution of lateral flow test kits through home delivery and pharmacies remains the responsibility of the UK government and we are working with it, as it increases the capacity of the system.”

The UK government has placed at-home rapid testing at the centre of its strategy to fight Covid, alongside vaccination – but their growing scarcity is causing problems.

People unable to find a test have to isolate for around 40 per cent longer under government rules, staying at home for 10 days instead of seven.

It comes as concern mounts about staff shortages across the economy, including in the NHS and on public transport – with Victoria Station in London already closed to its main operator due to a shortage of train crews.

Yet the NHS website has faced rolling shortages and pharmacists in high-demand areas have largely been out of stock.

The government says it has taken steps to increase the supply of tests, med 300 million expected to be delivered in January, up from an original order of 100 million.

The UK government has so far declined to impose new Covid restrictions on people in England, putting it increasingly out of line with countries on the continent, as well as the other home nations.

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