Press Release – 17th September 2020

Sarah Owen MP tells government to get a grip on covid testing as Matt Hancock insists testing in Luton is fine

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Luton North’s Labour MP Sarah Owen has today told Matt Hancock and the government that they urgently need to get a grip on the country’s coronavirus testing situation, which has left people with symptoms struggling to get tests they urgently need. This week Matt Hancock insisted that accessing a test in Luton has been possible, despite some reports of residents trying for over 48 hours to book a test on the portal.

In a scathing opinion article released this morning in Westminster’s House Magazine, Ms Owen expressed the frustration of her constituents who are telling her that they want to do the right thing and get tested when they have symptoms, but due to the government’s failing testing system, they’re spending hours refreshing the testing website.

The Health Secretary told the Luton North MP this week that on Monday, 484 people in Luton received a test. This confident assertion contrasted with the Labour MP’s cases of parents, teachers and even a local vicar having to miss work as they had symptoms, but were left unable to get tested.

The Luton North MP has told of people in Luton being told to go to Leicester for a test, with none available locally through the government website. She has also expressed her frustration with government minister’s “robotic recital of statistics on capacity and numbers tested, [feeling] like a crude attempt to gaslight anyone with genuine concerns”, especially when the only data available is on the number of people tested, but not the many thousands of people who had tried, but couldn’t access a test.

The much delayed NHS Test and Trace app is finally expected to launch on 24th September, after originally being pencilled in by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock for a launch in May.

As we approach the Winter, in her role on Parliament’s influential Health and Social Care Select Committee, Ms Owen has vowed to continue to work across Parliament to get the government to listen and use their power to take action to do everything it can to avoid a continued surge in cases in Luton and across the country.

As of Wednesday 16th September, the total number of coronavirus cases in the borough stands at 1,853, three more than the previous day.

Luton North MP Sarah Owen commented:

“The government promised us a ‘world beating’ testing system. If they think people in Luton being sat at their computer for 2 or 3 days pressing refresh is ‘world leading’, then they’re not just incompetent, they’re completely out of touch.”

“I really want them to get this right. Everyone’s health depends on them getting this right. I’ve been working hard, day after day with MPs of all parties on Parliament’s Health Committee to try and get this right, but at every turn this government somehow finds a new way to let us down.”

“On care homes, on PPE, on testing, on protecting jobs threatened because of covid, they’ve been slow off the mark and it’s meant more people have got sick, more jobs have gone and more families have lost loved ones.

“If people can’t get the tests they need, cases will continue to rise. They need to get a grip quickly, before more people catch this terrible virus.”

In the House of Commons on Tuesday (15th), the Luton North MP put the question to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock:

“We have heard case after case of failure when it comes to testing. I have heard from parents, teachers and a vicar in Luton North all saying that there are no walk-in tests, no drive-through tests and no home kits available when they need them. The Secretary of State talks about capacity, but what we need is access to testing. Capacity is nothing without access to testing. When can people with symptoms expect to be able to get tests when and where they need them?”

In response, Hancock said:

“The vast majority of people do. In Luton yesterday, 484 people got tests. I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) that we should follow the data.”

On Twitter, Owen added:

“The people who are contacting me to say they can’t get a test in Luton are not lying and Hancock’s non answer will be cold comfort to them.

The Secretary of State needs to get a grip of testing if we are to prevent uncontrolled spikes and further deaths.”

To view Sarah’s full opinion editorial: