The UK has underinvested in healthcare “over many years” which has hampered its ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the boss of Roche, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies.
Severin Schwan, Roche chief executive, told BBC Newsnight: “the real issue here is that the UK has probably not invested enough into healthcare, both in absolute terms and in relative terms over many years. That was a problem to start with, but it really shows up in such a crisis when the system is more stressed.”
The company is a key partner of the government and Public Health England in ramping up testing for coronavirus.
Mr Schwan said: “the cooperation and the partnership with the government is excellent, but you can’t fix the infrastructure in a couple of weeks. I mean, if there is too little investment over many years into the health care system, then it’s simply not possible to ramp up as fast as you would wish in such a challenging situation.”
Roche now has 13 UK sites operating to run high-throughput swab testing for coronavirus, under its partnership with the government.
But Mr Schwan added that, in terms of these high-throughput systems, the UK still had “about half the capacity” of other European countries, like Germany and Switzerland, relative to population.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The government is committing record investment to the NHS, including the Long-Term NHS funding settlement, which has been enshrined in law. We have created a whole national testing programme from scratch.
“Simultaneously, we have increased the capacity of our laboratories and established a partnership with Roche diagnostics, which has already provided thousands of additional tests.”