BBC News host Mishal Husain was shut down by the Government’s testing tsar on Saturday over claims the Health Secretary has misled the public on meeting his ambitious coronavirus target.
Matt Hancock set himself a target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of April. Addressing the nation at the Governments daily briefing from Downing Street on Friday, Mr Hancock confirmed his department had been successful. Despite the achievement, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme host Mishal Husain questioned whether the target had truly been met during a heated clash with Professor John Newton, the man spearheading the effort.
She asked Professor Newton: “The original promise was for the UK to be carrying out 100,000 tests a day. And that has not happened yet.”
Mr Newton denied the claims and maintained the Government was focused on delivering the results the country needed.
He said: “That is not quite true, actually.
“It is a big number however you count it. All the tests are only counted once.
“And you can count tests when they go out or when they come back in.
“Whichever way you do it, we still beat the target.
“These are the sorts of discussions you get when targets are introduced.
“But what we are focussed on is delivering what people need.”
Addressing specific concerns about the inclusion of home delivery kits in the total number of tests completed, Professor Newton insisted they formed an essential part of the Governments approach.
He said: “The home delivery kits are essential for example to support contact tracing.
“So the home kits are very popular. They are what people asked for and an extremely important part of the programme.
“So we make no apologies for counting those and being proud of the fact we have built up that capacity.”
The Government has also been attacked by Labour for failing to be transparent with the public about including home testing kits in the official total of tests completed, arguing they were used to make up the numbers to meet the target.
Addressing the testing target Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told talkRADIO: “It is good news that testing has increased. We have long called for more testing. By any stretch, it is a welcome achievement to have increased testing from where we were at the start of the month.
“I think what you alluded to in your question, though, was that it seems that when you look at these figures closely that far from carrying out 100,000 tests a day, which is what the promise was, it turns out that about 39,000 of these tests are home testing kits which are simply being put in the post.
“So we hope that those tests are done at home and returned. But it is not quite the same as being carried out. And I think ministers could have just said that today.”
The Shadow minister went on to accuse the Government of wanting to appear as though it had met its goal without being upfront with the public.
He said: “They obviously wanted to make it look like they had hit their 100,000 target.”