The government’s strategy regarding coronavirus has been communicated… confusingly to say the least.
First they weren’t testing and a “herd immunity” policy was floated. Then, as the severity of coronavirus became apparent, the tests were coming – but they still have yet to appear.
Ditto the life-saving ventilators, of which the NHS only has 8,000 at the time of writing.
And today the British Medical Association announced the ventilator shortage is so critical that coronavirus patients who are are more likely to die may have ventilators removed from them, as care looks likely to be rationed.
This, of course, should never be a choice healthcare professionals are forced to make.
Which is why we need to keep track of the government’s promises regarding two key elements that could help prevent a further increase in coronavirus cases, and treat the patients who already are suffering from it.
Here’s a list of all the times the Tories promised the public coronavirus tests and ventilators were arriving soon.
16 March: Chris Whitty promises to 'scale' up tests after WHO criticism
Until this point, the UK government was only testing people hospitalised with severe Covid-19 symptoms – including medical staff – despite NHS England claiming they were preparing to conduct 10,000 tests a day on 11 March.
In total, 44,000 people had been tested. But the World Health Organisation said this wasn’t good enough, with a former WHO director even writing directly to Whitty to tell him more tests were needed.
In response, Whitty promised to “scale up” testing although didn't specify how much by.
16 March: Matt Hancock tweets out a call for ventilator manufacturers
Calling all manufacturers who can support our National Effort for #coronavirus ventilator production - to help, con… https://t.co/BtFp4qzED9
Health Secretary Hancock tweeted a call for ventilators to add to the UK’s existing stock of 5,900. At the same time, the government sent ventilator blueprints to 60 British manufacturers.
18 March: Boris Johnson says they’re increasing coronavirus testing to ‘25,000 a day’
At prime minister’s questions, Boris said that the number of daily tests would increase to 25,000. The government also sent out an official press release, announcing the figure. Yet the day before, the chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance had said 4,000 tests were being carried out daily. It’s a big jump.
19 March: Matt Hancock says that the UK is “engaging” in the EU ventilator scheme.
Matt Hancock knew all about the #EU ventilator scheme last week(19.03.2020)
"We are invited to be part of the EU v… https://t.co/JMA8GL7obx
Appearing on Question Time, Hancock was asked by Fiona Bruce about the UK’s involvement in the EU ventilator procurement scheme. Hancock said the country is “engaging” but also “getting on with it” and buying ventilators from “around the world and UK producers”.
25 March: Matt Hancock says 3.5 million testing kits are on their way and Boris promises more tests
The Health Secretary said the government had bought 3.5 million antibody tests that can tell whether someone has previously been infected with coronavirus but not whether they currently have it. They will be available first for NHS staff “very soon”, he promised.
Later at the daily briefing, Boris Johnson told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that a “huge” programme of national testing is being rolled out. Chris Whitty said there is a “global shortage” causing a “bottleneck” of tests.
26 March: Government says it “missed the deadline” for the EU ventilator procurement scheme and orders 10,000 from Dyson
A government spokesman first said the UK wouldn't be taking part in the EU ventilator scheme because it’s “no longer a member of the EU”. After criticism, the message changed: instead No 10 said they missed the deadline to join due to an “initial communication problem”.
This added to a 15,000 strong order and a “reservation” order of 5,000 extra machines. If all orders are completed, the NHS will have 41,000 ventilators on hand.
31 March: Michael Gove says the rate of testing is “increasing” but the UK must go “further, faster”
As Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty all revealed they had contracted Covid-19 last week – which they manage to be tested for, despite “mild” symptoms – Michael Gove took over the daily briefing.
He admitted the UK is nowhere near meeting its target of 25,000 tests a day and blamed a global shortage of chemicals on the missed goal. The day before, more than 8,000 people were tested for the virus; in total Gove says 143,186 have received a test.
The antibody tests also have not yet materialised.
1 April: Housing minister Robert Jenrick says testing will be at 15,000 a day by “the end of the week”
Robert Jenrick told Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain that they will be 15,000 tests a day by the end of the week.
“I hope on testing ... you will see significant increases this week,” he said yesterday. “We expect to be at 15,000 tests over the course of this week and then moving further forward in the future.” When questioned he also blamed the shortage of tests on a global shortage.
1 April: The first batch of medical ventilators are finished – but there’s only 30
40 new hospitals are actually 6 hospitals.
50,000 new nurses is actually 31,000 nurses.
30,000 new ventilators is… https://t.co/DJhfQGuUsS
In a video message posted to Twitter, the PM has said the government needs to “massively ramp up” both tests for coronavirus and antibody tests for immunity. This comes as the government admits that only 2,000 key NHS staff have been tested out of half a million. To date, 163,194 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK, and 2,921 have died.
Whatever your political leaning, this is not good enough.