As Russ Swan settles in to a new normal of self-isolation, he'd like to believe politicians, he really would - but…
Has there ever been a time when laboratories were more of a political football than at present? When the lies and deceit of government ministers put our industry under such scrutiny, with so little appreciation of what it is, does, or is capable of?
"We were told, remember, that the UK does simply not possess a diagnostic laboratory sector."
The generous part of my soul (and there is one) wants to believe them when they say they are 'ramping up' Covid-19 diagnostic testing to the tens or hundreds of thousands per week. It would be easier to do so if they had demonstrated good faith in earlier statements. Such as those as long ago as February, claiming (lying) that the UK was 'well prepared' for a pandemic which, even then, was clearly going to change everything.
It would be easier to believe them if the numbers quoted had not been apparently plucked from thin air by whichever vacuous apparatchik happened to be still standing to deliver the latest soothing words to attempt to calm an anxious nation.
It would be easier to trust them if they could, even once, demonstrate the most basic understanding of the lab sector. We were told, remember, the problem wasn't the laboratories or the tests themselves, but the reagents. These were impossible to obtain, they told us, because other countries had sneakily bought them all up while our own government prevaricated. When the industry responded that supplies were available, they changed the subject.
We were told, remember, that the UK does simply not possess a diagnostic laboratory sector. Tell that to the many hospital and university labs up and down the country, busy trying to prepare themselves for a call to arms that never came. Tell it to those responsible for the insane policy of centralising Covid tests at a single laboratory in Milton Keynes, rather than the dozens of equally-capable sites the length and breadth of Britain.
Or, how about this, tell it to the government that sold off the state-owned Laboratory of the Government Chemist for no reason other than a philosophical abhorrence of anything being actually owned by the state. It matters not whether public ownership might be in the public interest, when political dogma is the only philosophy in town. We must ask ourselves just why it has been virtually impossible to get symptoms assessed by an actual test, unless you happen to be a cabinet minister or one of their immediate family.
There are really only two reasons why the test kits and consumables were not placed on urgent order (along with a few truckloads of medical grade PPE and ventilators).
One is that it was thought too expensive. This is a government that has for a decade cut expenditure even when this was against the national interest. But when this virus came to town, the Treasury quickly found a hundred billion it could spare.
The only other possible reason is that they simply didn't want to know. More tests inevitably mean more positive results. One way of keeping the statistic low is simply not to ask the question. By denying diagnostics to millions, the books were cooked and the true seriousness of the situation kept hidden. For a government based on lies and deceit, this seems an almost inevitable policy.