Posted: Fri 1st May 2020

Welsh coronavirus testing system ‘not a failure’ insists Chief Medical Officer despite criticism

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Friday, May 1st, 2020

The Welsh coronavirus testing system is “not a failure”, the country’s Chief Medical Officer has insisted following recent criticism.

The Welsh Government initially set itself a target of carrying out around 9,000 tests a day by the end of April.

But such goals were later dropped and current testing figures stand at less than a tenth of that number at between 700 to 800 a day.

During an Assembly committee meeting held yesterday, Ynys Môn AM Rhun ap Iorwerth described the outcome as a “failure” and questioned what the impact had been on the ability to fight the virus.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, responded by calling the Plaid Cymru health spokesperson’s enquiry “a loaded question” and dismissed his assessment of the testing system.

He said: “I have to say, I don’t regard our testing as a failure in any sense. We got on to testing in Wales very early and one of the successes that Jayne Bryant was mentioning earlier was that we did have the ability to, because of our skilful laboratory staff, develop testing early in Wales, much earlier than other nations.

“So, at a time when, really, all the testing was being centralised on Porton Down, we managed in Wales to get testing on board and, of course, we have over time increased our testing capacity, as you know.

“Just on the numbers, I have consistently advised Ministers, the media and everybody who I speak to that it’s not the numbers that matter but how we use the tests that matter.

“We have been very consistent in Wales about our approach to testing and what the purpose of our testing is, and the first priority has always been to support patients to make sure that patients coming through our system are tested where they need to be.”

Later on in the session attentions turned to the debate over whether or not all care home residents and staff should be tested in Wales.

Currently the devolved government only tests those who show symptoms of COVID-19 and has attracted criticism for saying it would not follow in the footsteps of England, where it was announced earlier this week that everyone within care home settings would be tested, regardless of whether or not they display symptoms.

Committee member Jayne Bryant pointed to the fact the Older People’s Commissioner has called for more testing in care homes.

She also asked Health Minister Vaughan Gething to outline his response to the concerns raised by care staff.

Mr Gething told his Labour colleague that the Welsh Government was caught unawares by the decision in England.

He also reiterated his belief that extending testing would not necessarily make care home residents any safer.

He said: “On changes in testing and policy in England, we haven’t had acres of notice about that.

“There hasn’t been a discussion before those policy changes have effectively been determined and then made.

“So, no, we don’t really have notice about the way that the policy is changing in England. And this is difficult, isn’t it, because we make policy choices for ourselves here in Wales.”

He later continued: “I said on more than one occasion that if the evidence base changes, then I’ll be happy to change my position.

“I know that there’s a review of that evidence around care home testing, but I think it’s really important to be clear that just testing every care home resident doesn’t automatically make them safer.

“As I say, the test tells you whether you have coronavirus at the point in time when the test was undertaken, not whether you could get it the next day.”

Mr Gething said the government had instead looked at other ways to help care homes by using infection control measures and providing Personal Protective Equipment.

You can watch the session in full below.


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