Letter to Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, from the Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and Deputy Mayor Cllr Rachel Blake


Dear Secretary of State

We are very concerned at the failure of the government to provide adequate Covid-19 tests that our residents can easily access.

Looking online today when trying to book a test on the government website you are simply told ‘this service is currently very busy’ and to ‘try again in a few hours’. This is totally unacceptable and undermines all our work in encouraging residents to get tested if they develop Covid-19 symptoms. Prior to this when tests were available residents were being sent far away outside of the borough and outside of London.

NHS Test and Trace is central to stopping the spread of Covid-19 but the current lack of available tests is really concerning at a time of a public health crisis. We have long called for additional testing facilities and we remain concerned by the shortage of tests when we are seeing cases rise again. In the past 14 days, in Tower Hamlets there have been 1,408 tests per 100,000 population. This is the 30th lowest testing rate out of all London boroughs.

If residents think they have the virus they are now left in a very difficult position if they simply cannot get a test. We are particularly worried about the impact on keyworkers and as a very diverse area again we are concerned that the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 could hit our community hard.

This is obviously a vital moment for our community as schools and workplaces have re-opened the government knew that it would mean additional demand which would need to be backed up with a robust testing procedure. As community leaders we want to reassure our residents and NHS Test and Trace was a key part of this. People need the reassurance of being able to get a test quickly and somewhere where they can easily get to locally with or without a car. The alternative is people having to self-isolate for longer or even worse people spreading the virus. Headteachers and parents are concerned about the impact on school attendance. We need the government to take steps now to support our schools who are on the frontline.

We are pleased that a government run testing centre is finally opening in the borough at Watney Market Ideas Store, this is something we have requested for a long time and we have provided space in one of our council buildings. The Government need to make sure that this centre now has adequate capacity to meet the demand for tests.

Our residents are trying to do the right thing and as we go into the winter this must be sorted as soon as possible. We’ve worked with our partners to put out consistent messages to reach all our communities about NHS Test and Trace but we need the government to step up, play its part and fix this testing fiasco. Please outline urgently the steps you are taking in our borough to address this.

Yours sincerely,

Mayor John Biggs, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor for Adults, Health and Wellbeing  

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