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Sunday, Oct 25, 2020

Ministers are 'furious' with NHS bosses and Public Health England's failure to solve testing shortages by its 'dangerously slow' willingness to involve industry - as even their staff have no faith in their leaders

There have been concerns about level of diagnostic testing for coronavirus. Tension over testing is causing a rift between government and health officials. Sir Simon Stevens was labelled a 'megalomanic' by a senior government figure

Ministers are said to be furious at 'megalomaniac' NHS bosses and Public Health England's failure to get to grips with testing and protective equipment shortages - as a new survey shows their staff have no faith in their leaders.

There have been increasing concerns about the level of diagnostic testing for the deadly pandemic, with Matt Hancock last week admitting the UK had struggled to scale up to the mass testing of other countries such as Germany.

The failure over testing, lack of success in bringing in sufficient PPE equipment to protect NHS staff, and hesitancy to embrace the private sector, is causing a rift between the government and health officials, as reported by The Sunday Times.

Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, was labelled 'a megalomaniac, micromanaging control freak' by one senior figure, the newspaper has said.

After coming out of self-isolation due to having symptoms of coronavirus, Mr Hancock pledged 100,000 tests a day and pledged to work with businesses to ramp up the UK's testing.

The plan includes tests to ascertain if a person is infected by the virus, and also separate anti-body tests to see if someone has already acquired immunity from the disease.

As part of his five-pillar plan to accelerate testing over the next four weeks, Mr Hancock said he wanted to embrace the private sector and develop a 'huge diagnostic industry'.

This morning he admitted that hitting his promise of 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of April will be 'hard' and that people involved in the efforts will have to 'put their shoulders to the wheel' to hit the target.

A health department source told the Sunday Times: 'NHS England and Public Health England were reluctant to relinquish their power to private labs.

'Stevens has this absolutely illogical fear of anyone else getting any say over what happens in the NHS.'

A study by the free-market Adam Smith Institute was also critical of NHS quangos for not embracing help from the private sector earlier, and being slow to react.

The report said: 'The UK's COVID-19 testing has been dangerously slow, excessively bureaucratic and hostile to outsiders and innovation.

'There appears to be an innate distrust of outsiders. PHE has actively discouraged use of private sector testing.

'Even within the system, the process for testing and validation is very centralised.'

The paper highlighted that the UK has fallen to the bottom quarter of OECD countries for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, on a per capita basis.

South Korea has tested four times as many people as the UK, Germany almost three times and the United States now almost twice as many, per capita.

The institute's plan - which involves using the UK's private laboratories for mass testing - has been back by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

He said: 'A mass community testing plan is challenging, but not impossible if we mobilise in the way we have to produce ventilators,' he said.

'That means tapping into every laboratory, every pharmaceutical company and every university in the country without delay.'

It comes after confidence in Public Health England was lacking from its own staff members, as reported by The Sunday Telegraph.

An official survey found that 49 per cent of its employees who took part said they did not have any confience in senior managers' decisions.

Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has demanded answers on the lack of scaling up of testing: 'Experts continue to call for the UK to significantly ramp up testing.

'When Germany is testing around 500,000 people a week, many are asking why we are still not even hitting the 10,000 a day promised on March 11th.

We called for enforced social distancing, but it is a blunt tool without a national strategy to test and contact trace.'

An NHS England spokesman disagreed with the claims.

'First, NHS hospital labs are doing exactly the testing they've been asked to, concentrating first on patient testing and now staff testing.

'By contrast it has always been clear that mass testing would also need to involve private sector partners - which the Department of Health leads on and has been working to introduce.

'Second, NHS England has itself rapidly engaged with the private sector in areas for which it has responsibility, as evidenced by a deal to redeploy almost all independent hospitals across England to help with the expected surge of coronavirus patients.

'This means another 20,000 staff, 8,000 more beds and an extra 1,000 ventilators can all be used in this battle.

'Third, the NHS in partnership with the military has acted in record time to establish new Nightingale hospitals in London and now in four other regions across the country.

'Everyone across the NHS is completely focused on coming together to respond to the biggest global health emergency in a century.'

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