Health Minister: Coronavirus tests lost in collapsed deal “would have made an earlier difference for us”
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said Wales is only doing 18% of expected coronavirus tests after a deal to supply extra tests collapsed.
The Minister was today asked about a testing contract that has collapsed, where Welsh Government expected 5000 tests a day to be provided in Wales by a third party company. Yesterday the First Minister said he believed there was an agreement in place that should be honoured, and was ‘disappointed’ that it would not be happening.
Swiss healthcare company Roche was named by Channel 4 as the provider, and quoted the company as saying “they have only been working with Public Health England and never had a separate agreement with Wales”.
Today the Health Minister was asked by the BBC for more detail on the nature of the agreement as the Welsh Government understood it, and what had replaced the deal, and if the reports on the company named were involved was correct.
Mr Gething said, “I don’t have much further to add to, or restate the position. We’re absolutely not going to name the company that were due to provide 5000 tests for Wales. We’ve been really clear about that.
“Our objective is to get more testing available and to focus on delivering that. We had a written undertaking an agreement, so we had a clear agreement for that company team to come into Wales to set up the infrastructure required to provide those additional tests.
“What I have been able to confirm over the weekend is our ability to nevertheless scale up our testing capacity within two to three weeks to be about to be at about 5000 tests a day.
“We also expect the by the end of May, we’ll have a further 4000 tests because of the UK wider arrangements we signed up to together with colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. We also expect within a matter of weeks to have the new antibody tests available as well.”
Later the topic resurfaced, with Channel 4 pointing out ten days ago it was announced there would be 6000 tests a day as of tomorrow, and enquired if that projection was based off the now collapsed deal.
Mr Gething replied noting there was now only 18% of the tests taking place” “Yes, the statement that I made on Saturday week was about our ability to get to about 6000 tests a day, because the additional 5000 tests a day that we were due to get.
“I have also said that this week we will nevertheless be going ahead with over 1,100 tests a day.”
Channel 4, who were in the room asking questions, pressed the point asking “I think a lot of people would like to know whether us the Welsh Government can shed any light whatsoever on why that agreement fell through?”
Mr Gething said” “I’ve tried to be clear and consistent about describing the fact that we had a written exchange and agreements and agreements for that team to come into Wales, and to make sure that that capacity was available now. I’ve also been clear about my disappointment it hasn’t happened.
“I recognise the interest to the public, in particular our frontline workers, in increasing our testing capacity sooner rather than later.”
Reiterating he would not name the company, he added: “Our focus has got to be on providing more tests with the resources and the routes that we have got. We have diversified the range of people we are working with, we have heard from a range of different private organisations from the university sector, as well as our NHS capacity as well.
“So you will see an increase, but there’s no getting away from the fact that those additional tests we were due to have would have made an earlier difference for us.”
Looking to the future he noted there would be time to ‘crawl over lots of the detail’ reviewing the responses to the pandemic, adding, “…but my time now has to be on getting things right for today and tomorrow, and the big challenge that we know is coming through the doors of our health and social care system here in Wales.
Mr Gething was again asked to ‘shed light’ on why the deal did not go through.
“The company themselves made a decision they weren’t able to fulfil the agreement they’d reached with us. If I go further into that, then I’m getting into an argument about that deal falling forward and not spending my time on doing what I think I should do to preparing our health and care system in the here and now.
“As I say, when all this is done, I’m sure will be lots more questions for all of us about choices we made at various different points in time, including this particular aspect.”
Roche told Deeside.com: “Roche does not have, and has never had, a contract or agreement directly with Wales to supply testing for COVID-19. Roche has an agreement only with the UK Government to increase testing capacity across the whole of the UK.
The UK-wide roll-out is being coordinated centrally by Public Health England, including Wales.”
You can view the full briefing along with the Q&A session via the below video:
🎥 Yn fyw nawr | 🎥 Live now: https://t.co/ahhcRanFrG
— Welsh Government (@WelshGovernment) March 31, 2020
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