The Spectator, April 2nd, Matt Ridley
Despite what Corbynites like to claim, Britain’s National Health Service has always relied heavily on the private sector for lots of things. The food it serves to patients is not grown on state-owned farms, nor are the pills it prescribes manufactured in state-owned factories. Yet when it comes to diagnostic tests there seems to be a reluctance to buy them in, even from other public bodies let alone from private firms. This ideological prejudice is proving costly.
A new report by Matthew Lesh for the Adam Smith Institute, published today may explain the British failure compared with other countries when it comes to tackling the current pandemic by testing. On 14 March, Britain was the fifth best country for quantity of Covid-19 viral tests performed per capita. By 30 March it had fallen to 26th in the league.
The contrast with the United States is especially striking. America was found badly wanting at the start of the epidemic when the federal Centers for Disease Control insisted on controlling the process of testing people for the virus. It ‘sought to monopolise testing, discouraged the private sector developing its own tests and misled state and local authorities about efficacy of its tests’, writes Lesh. After heavy criticism, it reversed course, decentralised the system and rapidly expanded testing.
Germany and South Korea began farming out the work of testing samples to contractors from the very start. Britain did not. It initially sent all samples to one laboratory, at Colindale, in north west London. Public Health England also ‘chose to develop and encourage the use of its own diagnostic tools, rather than seeking the development of a range of private sector tools and providing fast-track approval’, Lesh finds. On 12 February, it began to use 12 other laboratories, but still only with its own tests.
Click here to read Matt Ridley’s piece in full.