Coronavirus: Whitehall takes charge of tests after row between England and Wales

Ministers have been forced into a crisis rethink of the way coronavirus tests are bought after it emerged the NHS in England and Wales were competing over testing.

In Wales, the devolved government’s health minister Vaughan Gething declared he was “very disappointed” with a manufacturer, understood to be Roche, which had been due to supply up to 5,000 COVID-19 tests a day in Wales.

Whitehall sources said that the company appeared to want to prioritise the bigger of two orders – one requested by the NHS in England – leading the firm to cancel the order with Wales to the fury of the Cardiff administration.

This led to a crisis meeting between the health ministers of the four nations, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Friday.

Now all four nations have agreed to co-operate on buying coronavirus tests, with the system co-ordinated centrally.

But this has led to fears that some of the smaller nations like Wales and Northern Ireland risk losing out if England gets priority.

Devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland have agreed to the scheme alongside Wales in the hope it is more efficient, acknowledging it can make more sense for the UK as a whole to procure some equipment.

However there is still nervousness.

Adam Price, leader of Welsh nationalist Plyd Cymru, told Sky News: “In this case it absolutely seems that we have been – whether gazumped – [it is] certainly the case that the deal hasn’t gone through in Wales.

“And we’re led to believe that is because a larger deal in England has taken precedence.

“How can we have any confidence in a system whereby we don’t have any independent means of securing our needs in Wales if we’re just told to trust the UK government to provide us without any ability to intervene ourselves?

“That certainly doesn’t give me the confidence that Wales’ needs will be best served.”

Earlier at a news conference Mr Gething told Sky News: “The four cabinet health ministers had a meeting at the end of last week to talk about expectations on supply chains to work – for example on Personal Protective Equipment, consumables – to make sure we had agreement on UK-wide rules and equity for the four nations of the UK.”

He explained it was “to make sure that supply is being dealt with on a UK-wide basis and the four cabinet ministers for health were clear about our expectations”, adding: “That’s exactly what should happen.”

The Department for Health and Roche did not comment.

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