NHS to 'ramp up' coronavirus testing to 10,000 each day

11 March 2020, 00:02

The NHS wants to ramp up testing in the UK
The NHS wants to ramp up testing in the UK. Picture: Getty

By Kate Buck

The NHS in England has set in motion plans to "ramp up" testing facilities for coronavirus so 10,000 can be done each day.

So far more than 25,000 tests have been conducted by public health officials in England, with 373 testing positive as of 3pm on Tuesday.

But it is hoped that within weeks, 10,000 swabs will be assessed each day.

In most cases, patients will know within a day whether they have been infected, with the confirmed cases being urgently prioritised.

Nadine Dorries was confirmed to be the first MP to be diagnosed with the infection on Tuesday evening, and is self-isolating as she recovers.

The news comes as England's deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said that "many thousands of people" would contract coronavirus as the disease continued to spread in the UK.

At present, diagnostic facilities can perform around 2,000 tests a day but the NHS announced it was undertaking a "significant expansion".

up to 10,000 people a day will be able to be tested a day under new plans
Up to 10,000 people a day will be able to be tested a day under new plans. Picture: PA
Nadine Dorries confirmed she has become the first MP to be infected with the disease
Nadine Dorries confirmed she has become the first MP to be infected with the disease. Picture: PA

In comparison, South Korea - which has a population of around 50 million compared to Britain's 66 million - has been able to test up to 15,000 patients a day for the virus.

196,000 people in the country have now been tested, all free of charge, with more than 7,300 testing positive for the infection, and over 50 dying.

Public Health England developed a highly sensitive test to detect the virus which has been rapidly rolled out to its regional labs across the country.

Now 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.

Currently there are around 100 testing centres in England and every sample is then sent to one of 12 strictly controlled designated PHE laboratories across the nation.

Each of these then reports to one centralised centre in Colindale, north London.

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 practising good hygiene and washing their hands more often, for at least 20 seconds."

Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, added: "Wider testing is important as it allows us to continue to meet 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."

Testing was initially only conducted at PHE specialist labs, with the next phase of the rollout seeing 10 NHS microbiology services called to step up doubling the number of daily tests.

Further testing will be conducted by some NHS pathology services as the diagnostic programme rolls out.