Sir Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to give an ‘honest answer’ on the failures of the NHS Test and Trace system during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).
In the second round of PMQs since summer recess, Sir Keir pressed Johnson to explain reports of people being told to travel miles away from their home to get tested for coronavirus.
‘The prime minister talks about capacity. The latest government figures were updated last night and they showed on average that 75,000 tests are not being used every day,’ Sir Keir said.
‘If there are 75,000 not being used then why yesterday were people being told to go hundreds of miles away for a test?’
Johnson evaded the question and begun accusing Sir Keir of undermining the system.
Highlighting the some 320,000 people reached by contact tracers, Johnson said: ‘That is the British people ignoring his [Sir Keir’s] attempt to undermine confidence in Test and Trace and working together to get this disease defeated.’
Taking to the despatch box, Sir Keir calmly replied: ‘Mr Speaker, I am listening carefully to what the prime minister says and what is undermining confidence is families being told to go hundreds of miles because they can’t get a test.
‘That’s undermining confidence. I just want it fixed. We don’t need an argument. What’s the problem? Tell us what the problem is, and tell us what the solution is.’
When Johnson said the government was working hard to build up NHS testing capacity, Sir Keir asked: ‘Mr Speaker, why can’t we hear from the prime minister an honest answer. If he stood at the despatch box and said ‘I know something’s gone wrong in the last couple of weeks. I’ve looked into this and here’s my plan.’ then maybe people would be reassured.
‘But as ever, he pretends the problem isn’t there. The infection rate is rising and we need a functioning testing regime but far from the ‘world-beating’ system we were promised, the government can’t even get the basics right.
‘The government is lurching from crisis to crisis. It still lacks even basic competence. This is what is holding Britain back.’
Johnson then moved the debate on to Brexit.
He said to Sir Keir: ‘The great ox once again has stood on his tongue, he has nothing at all to say about that subject today because he doesn’t want to offend the huge number of his backbenchers who want to overturn the verdict of the people and take us back into the EU, which is of course what he wants to do himself.’