Coronavirus: Testing target met after rushed weekend of new antibody tests across NHS

Government’s testing target reached – but only after 40,000 antibody tests were included

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Sunday 31 May 2020 19:03 BST
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Testing capacity has been increased dramatically since the start of the outbreak
Testing capacity has been increased dramatically since the start of the outbreak

A rush over the weekend to carry out thousands of tests for coronavirus antibodies has helped the government to reach its 200,000 test-capacity target.

On Friday, NHS England instructed hospitals to begin mass testing of staff and patients for Covid-19 antibodies and the government has counted 40,000 of these tests towards achieving the 200,000 target.

Over the weekend, doctors reported a big effort to test patients and staff, with some questioning the value of an antibody test. NHS England told hospitals that the results would help to build up a picture of how the virus has spread through the country.

Initially, coronavirus testing only included tests of patients who were ill with the virus.

A target of 100,000 tests a day that was set in April by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was only achieved after thousands of home tests were included in the results before they had even been sent back by patients.

Ministers have been criticised for setting arbitrary targets on testing numbers.

In March, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, set a goal of 250,000 tests a day, but this has yet to be achieved.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said 205,634 tests were available on Saturday.

The DHSC said the tests included 112,000 tests from the new diagnostic testing facilities, including 150 drive-through and mobile testing sites as well as home-test kits.

Laboratories report testing capacity based on their assessment of what they can deliver with the equipment and workforce available.

Mr Hancock said: “Reaching our 200,000 capacity target is an important milestone on our journey to control the spread of the virus, save lives and gradually ease lockdown.

“By rapidly expanding our testing capacity, we have been able to introduce NHS Test and Trace, and enabling those who have coronavirus symptoms to get a test is an important part of the programme.”

Although the current antibody and virus tests rely on blood samples or swabs from the throat and nose and can take 24 hours or longer for a result, a rapid 20-minute test is being trialled in Hampshire, where hospitals, GPs and care homes have been using it to test staff and patients.

Professor John Newton, national coordinator of the testing programme, said: “The expansion of our testing capacity has allowed us to take important steps to control the virus, including the introduction of a world-class contact-tracing service that will help us to safely ease lockdown over time. I am proud to say that anyone in the country who needs a test can get one, regardless of where in the country they are.”

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