Mayor John Biggs and Deputy Mayor Councillor Rachel Blake have written to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP about the government’s failure to provide adequate Covid-19 tests for residents in Tower Hamlets.

The government promised a ‘world-beating’ Test and Trace programme so that if people show symptoms of COVID-19 they can be tested as soon as possible. However, residents have reported problems booking a test and Tower Hamlets currently has the 30th lowest testing rate across London boroughs.

They call for the government to urgently step in as COVID-19 cases are rising again. In the letter the Mayor says ‘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’.

In the letter they raise concerns about the impact on keyworkers and the fact that with data showing COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic residents, they are particularly concerned about the lack of testing on the diverse community they represent.

A government-run testing centre opened in Watney Market Ideas Store on Friday (18th) which requires visitors to book an appointment for. The new centre follows a campaign by the Mayor to improve Covid testing but the letter asks for further steps to boost testing capacity. Residents are advised to continue to try and book a test if they show symptoms and follow government guidelines to self-isolate.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “We know that residents are trying to do the right thing and get tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19 but the government has not delivered on its promise of a ‘world-beating’ system. We’ll continue to lobby government to provide adequate testing for our residents as it’s absolutely vital this is addressed so we can control the spread of the virus and protect our community.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing said: “We need the government to step up and urgently fix this testing fiasco. We’ll continue to work with the Department for Health to identify test centres in the borough but it’s essential that the government steps up so that we have a fit for purpose Test and Trace system so people can book a test quickly, locally and get the results back quickly.”


Full text of the letter sent to the Health Secretary:

 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                                           

Cllr Rachel Blake

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