NHS to ramp up coronavirus testing capacity

Author: Caroline White

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The NHS is ramping up testing capacity for coronavirus (COVID-19), with specialist and hospital labs drafted in to boost the number of tests being processed from the current daily tally of around 1,500 to 10,000.

Public Health England (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 rolled out to PHE regional labs across the country.


And as of 10 March, PHE had processed 26,261 tests, with most results being returned within 24 hours in the UK. Of these, 25,888 tested negative and 373 were confirmed as positive. So far, six patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.

But as the virus spreads more people need to be tested, and NHS England has asked expert NHS laboratory services across the country to bring new capacity online. Other labs, including those in local hospitals, will begin checks as well, with the aim of enabling 8,000 more samples to be analysed every day of the week.

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 people in hospital wards and surgeries who show signs of the virus, to get a better picture of the pattern of spread of the virus.

“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,” said Professor Dame Sue Hill, NHS chief scientific officer.

“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,” she added.

Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, PHE, 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.”

She continued: “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 has 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.

To ensure that test results continue to be returned promptly, the NHS is also introducing seven regional co-ordination centres to get tests back to people as quickly as possible.

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