FEARS have been raised of a ‘major scandal’ amid claims government is failing to answer questions on Leamington’s delayed mega lab.
MP Matt Western says the public is still in the dark about when the facility will open, how much it will cost and whether it will be NHS-owned or operated.
The Warwick and Leamington MP recently asked the health secretary for more details in the House of Commons but was told by Matt Hancock his question ‘didn’t deserve an answer’.
Mr Western says the level of secrecy surrounding the project is unacceptable and has accused Mr Hancock of being evasive.
Government first suggested the laboratory would open in January. After delays, the opening was then set for spring.
But it is still closed, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) now saying final checks are now being carried out before it starts processing tests.
The laboratory will be operated by NHS Test and Trace and private recruitment firms are being used to hire staff rather than directly through the NHS.
Mr Western said: “This is a scandal waiting to happen.
“I have heard from distressed residents waiting months to start jobs, many completely without income.
“I have heard from scientists who fear lack of regulation, poorly qualified staff and mismanagement at the facility.
“I have heard from NHS groups who are concerned about the undercutting of existing services, ‘stealth privatisation’ and outsourcing of vital healthcare assets.
“Yet the DHSC has ignored letters, emails and questions from the media – which is unacceptable and keeps the public in the dark.
“Anyone who saw Mr Hancock’s arrogant response to my perfectly acceptable question in the Commons will sense government has something to hide.
“We need complete transparency. There have been too many failures and too much taxpayers’ money squandered by government for us to allow ministers to avoid accountability in the way they are at the moment.”
Mr Western says he has been contacted by scores of residents in his constituency who have signed contracts to begin working at the laboratory but have heard nothing from recruiters for months.
He added they have lost out on crucial wages during a pandemic and been left in chaos – while some were directed to sign non-disclosure agreements. For many, no fixed start date has been confirmed.
Government insists the facility will be owned and operated by the ‘NHS Test and Trace laboratory network.’, which is part operated by global public services firm Serco and has been widely criticised for its failures throughout the pandemic.
The Department of Health and Social Care says 200 staff are employed and working at the facility – with hundreds more to follow. It says the facility will eventually create 1,800 jobs.
It says costs will be published in ‘due course as part of routine government transparency’.
A spokeswoman told the Observer: “The Leamington lab will be an essential part of the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities ever created in British history, and is expected to start processing tests soon.
“This new lab is being set up by world-leading scientists, with decades of experience, and will expand our testing network, which has already conducted over 174 million tests.
“Recruitment of the laboratory’s workforce is ongoing, with a clear focus on attracting staff from local areas, universities and further education.”
The Government’s other planned mega-laboratory which was set to open in Scotland has been scrapped due to a ‘lack of demand.’