Coronavirus: FM 'puzzled' by Public Health Wales head's testing comment

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A gloved hand with a Covid-19 testImage source, Getty Images

It was "puzzling" that the chief executive of Public Health Wales (PHW) said she was "not familiar" with a now-abandoned target of 9,000 tests a day, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

"I agree that that is a puzzling answer," Mr Drakeford said.

Welsh Tories questioned if PHW is "truly capable" of delivering the coronavirus testing programme.

The Welsh Government had aimed to test 9,000 people a day by the end of April. Capacity is currently pegged at 2,350, and 2,017 tests were conducted on Saturday.

Mr Drakeford told BBC One's Politics Wales programme he had spoken "at length" with PHW's chair about the need for it to give confidence that the advice it is giving is reliable.

Questioned by Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives on whether the Welsh Government's target was based on advice from PHW, Dr Cooper told a Senedd committee repeatedly that she was not "familiar" with the 9,000 figure or trajectory.

The First Minister said he was sure the 9,000 target would have been based on advice from PHW.

Image source, Senedd TV
Image caption,
Tracey Cooper, bottom middle, was questioned by the Senedd health committee on Thursday

On the BBC's Politics Wales programme Mr Drakeford was asked three times whether he felt PHW is "up to the job".

In his third answer he said: "They've been up to the job, they've done a very important job so far. We need to make sure that they are fit to go on doing that job into the future alongside others."

He said: "If ministers provide a figure in Wales, it's not a figure we are plucking out of thin air.

"When the health minister used that figure it will be because he had been advised that that was the figure at the time."

Mr Drakeford added: "I talked last night at length with the chair of Public Health Wales, about the need for the board of Public Health Wales to be able to give us confidence that the advice we are getting is reliable."

Image caption,
Angela Burns said PHW seemed like an organisation "with very little teeth"

Welsh Conservative health spokeswoman Angela Burns said Dr Cooper's evidence to the Senedd health committee was "deeply worrying".

She told BBC Radio Wales's Sunday Supplement programme: "My concern lies with Public Health Wales, because she (Dr Cooper) was very very clear that she didn't know about the 9,000 target.

"And, to be frank, you had to be under a rock to not know that by the end of April, we were aiming for a 9,000 target."

Asked if there was a question over whether Public Health Wales is "up to the job", Angela Burns said: "There is indeed because it's not just about the tests."

She said it seemed an organisation "with very little teeth that has no real strategic oversight over the data, over the interpretation of the data, the analysis we can get out of it".

A Public Health Wales spokesperson said: "The Welsh Government has indicated that an additional 4,000 tests were not a target for testing in Wales, but reflected UK arrangements at the time.

"Public Health Wales is working closely with the Welsh Government, including advising them on testing capacity, but the government will also conduct their own analysis.

"We have now undertaken estimates on the required testing capacity for the next phase of the Coronavirus incident, and this information is included in the Recovery Plan submitted to the Welsh Government for consideration."