Coronavirus testing 'debacle', hospitals boss says

By Matt Precey
BBC Look East

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image captionNick Hulme is CEO of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

The head of two NHS hospitals has described coronavirus testing as a "debacle" and said politics was being put before clinical priorities.

Nick Hulme, who runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said setting testing targets "hasn't necessarily been thought through".

He was speaking at an East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust board meeting.

The government said it was "working tirelessly to scale-up capacity" of tests available.

Mr Hulme, who is chief executive of the trust and also the east of England testing lead, said he was aware he could get into trouble for making the comments, at a meeting on 7 May.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust runs Colchester Hospital and Ipswich Hospital

He said his new role "has been a fascinating insight into the testing debacle and I use the word debacle wisely, because I think that it's a prime example of where sometimes a target that is set, perhaps for optics and political reasons, hasn't necessarily been thought through in terms of its impact on the delivery of clinical care".

Mr Hulme described how the allocation of resources was being centrally controlled in relation to the testing programme which has been developed.

"The problem is that there is a finite and centrally-controlled release of both equipment and reagents and swabs," he told the meeting.

"And the decisions made to where those various... elements of effective testing are released is based on the political imperative to deliver the number of tests rather than necessarily the most appropriate clinical use of those tests."

Mr Hulme said at the meeting the testing was now "kind of " where it needed to be.

He also disclosed that dozens of staff had tested positive for coronavirus despite not showing symptoms.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We successfully hit our target to deliver 100,000 tests and we are working tirelessly to scale-up capacity even further to make sure everyone who needs a test can get one.

"The scale and speed at which we have increased our testing capacity and rolled out mass testing is unprecedented and a real success."

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