The government has shut down a coronavirus testing centre in Kent because it needs the land to prepare for Brexit.
The revelation comes amid widespread shortages of Covid-19 tests, prompting warnings that NHS staff are being forced off to stay off work because they cannot be diagnosed.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves told HuffPost UK the decision was a “disgrace” that “puts communities at risk”.
Downing Street confirmed the site at Ebbsfleet international station has been closed after a letter leaked to the Local Democracy Reporting Service showed HMRC needs it for “EU Exit”.
The government passed regulations in 2019 to give planning permission to use one of the station’s car parks as a holding centre for lorries where customs checks could be carried out.
No.10 said the region was served by a new testing centre in Rochester, which opened earlier this month.
But it comes after NHS Providers said a lack of testing is contributing to health service staff absences, putting services at risk and impacting on preparations for the winter pressures of Covid-19 and seasonal flu.
That followed widespread reports from people across England claiming they were unable to book tests or were being offered tests hundreds of miles away.
Last week HuffPost UK revealed emergency workers were being turned away from testing sites, with 1,500 cars turned away from sites across England on just one day.
Senior Labour MP Reeves said: “The closing of the Ebbsfleet site – when the system is under so much strain, and sick people are being sent on wild goose chases to get a test – is a disgrace.
“It puts communities at risk and just typifies this Tory government’s shambolic and incompetent approach to planning, both on Covid-19 and our transition out of the EU. It really isn’t too much to ask that ministers co-ordinate their last-minute lorry parks better, and not close much needed testing centres that are so vital for tackling this pandemic.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “People in Kent will be horrified to learn that the Covid testing facilities we so desperately need have closed, only to make way for a parking lot.
“Public health is now coming second to Brexit, thanks to Boris Johnson’s reckless approach to negotiations. This will cause grave concern across the country.
“The Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for the best possible deal with Europe and to ensure that we avoid a no deal catastrophe. This government must start putting the national interest first.”
A No.10 spokesperson told reporters: “We have set up regional test sites at great speed and they reflected the immediate availability of security and access.
“The testing site at Ebbsfleet is closed and a new regional testing site is operating very nearby in Rochester, ensuring operations can continue as needed.
“Final decisions on in-land sites (for Brexit) won’t be made until we establish the extent of the new infrastructure that will be delivered at ports.”
Ministers discussed efforts to increase testing capacity at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Boris Johnson on Tuesday.
“Capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are obviously seeing significant demands for tests. We continue to strive to increase capacity,” the spokesperson said.
They would not repeat the prime minister’s claim that the UK has a “world beating” test and trace system, saying only that it was “one of the biggest testing systems in the world”.
Brexit negotiations continue amid an acrimonious row over whether the UK plans to renege on the withdrawal agreement it signed earlier this year.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.