NHS to ramp up coronavirus testing labs

The NHS with Public Health England (PHE) is undertaking a significant expansion of coronavirus testing, with enhanced labs helping the health service carry out 10,000 tests daily.

PHE has developed a highly sensitive test to detect the virus, one of the first countries in the world to do so, which has been rapidly rolled out to their regional labs across the country.

Approximately 1,500 tests are being processed every day at PHE labs with the great majority of tests being turned around within 24 hours. PHE has processed over 25,000 tests as of 10 March and has not exceeded capacity during this time.

As more people come forward to be tested, the NHS is now scaling up tests by 500%, with NHS England asking expert NHS laboratory services across the country to bring new capacity online, and other labs to begin checks, enabling 8,000 more samples to be analysed every day of the week.

As the testing programme is scaled up, positive test result confirmation will be accelerated, helping people take the right action to recover or get treatment, quickly.

As well as testing of people who meet the criteria for being at risk, the NHS and PHE are also carrying out surveillance testing on others, including people in wards and surgeries showing signs of the virus, learning lessons from abroad and helping the UK to gain a better picture, earlier of the spread of the virus.

The additional resource to process more tests will mean local hospital labs will join specialist services, including those already provided by PHE, in being able to accurately detect the presence of the new virus, with learning and technology shared across NHS services nationwide.

Professor Dame Sue Hill, NHS chief scientific officer, said: “The NHS is ramping up the number of testing centres across the country, to help people get care quickly or have their mind put at ease.

“England’s NHS has world-leading expertise and every hospital across the country, and the healthcare professionals who run them, are now actively planning to respond flexibly to manage new demand.

“The public can help us to help the country to stay safe by practicing good hygiene and washing their hands more often, for at least 20 seconds.”

Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, said: “Wider testing is important as it will help to manage demand as the number of people being tested increases in the coming weeks. This will ensure that PHE and the NHS have the most robust system possible to understand what is happening with the virus.

“PHE has continued to process the vast majority of test results within 24 hours of receiving the sample in a PHE laboratory and returning them to NHS colleagues and will continue to do so.”

The first phase of this scaling up called on 10 NHS microbiology services to step up capacity, the next phase will call on 29 NHS pathology networks to allocate further testing to some of their 122 services, while ensuring day to day analysis for other conditions continues.

PHE and the NHS will continue to turn the vast majority of test results around within one day, with those who test positive urgently contacted.

To support this, the NHS is also introducing seven regional co-ordination centres to get tests back to people as quickly as possible.

As of 9am on 10 March 2020, 26,261 people have been tested in the UK, of which 25,888 were confirmed negative and 373 were confirmed as positive. Six patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.