DHSC draws up ‘moon shot’ plan to expand coronavirus testing to millions a day

Department has reportedly drafted in Deloitte to work on mass-testing regime aimed at asymptomatic carriers
Photo: NASA/Johnson on Flickr

By PoliticsHome staff

24 Aug 2020

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, is considering “moon shot” plans to get millions of people tested for coronavirus every day by next year in a bid to better track asymptomatic transmission.

The Telegraph reports that the Department of Health and Social Care has drafted in consultancy firm Deloitte to work on a mass-testing regime aimed at identifying those who have the disease but do not display symptoms.

The UK’s current testing regime requires someone to have one of three symptoms: a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a change to their sense of smell or taste. 

But the expansion in capacity being eyed by DHSC is reportedly aimed at catching those who are missed by the existing eest and erace set-up so the country can further ease coronavirus restrictions.

A source told the paper: “It is at an embryonic stage and it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work. 

“It is nicknamed ‘Operation Moon Shot’ because that is what a moon shot is like: it seems very hard but it’s important and we want to land it.”

The latest UK figures show that more than 190,000 people a day are currently being tested for Covid-19 – with capacity for testing standing at more than 326,000.

Sources told The Telegraph that the government is aiming for testing at the rate of “millions a day”, a significant expansion of current capacity.

DHSC is said to be considering a series of cheaper and more quickly administered tests to boost numbers, including a 20-minute saliva-based check and DNA "nudge box" machines, which are already expected to be used in NHS hospitals and can deliver results in 90 minutes.

Hancock’s department has been on the defensive over its test and trace efforts in recent weeks, moving to axe national contact tracers in favour of ramping up regional powers under a new “hybrid system”.

The move came after the department paid consulting firm McKinsey & Co £563,400 to help DHSC define the long-term “vision, purpose and narrative” of test and trace, as revealed by CSW last week.

The latest figures show 272,000 people have been reached by the scheme in total, including 78% of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and 88% of their contacts where communication details were provided.

But a report by NHS Providers showed concern among health leaders about the flagship scheme, with just 32% of trusts surveyed saying they believed the programme would “meet the needs of their trusts and the communities they served“ ahead of a crucial winter season for the NHS.

Fewer than one in five (18%) said the govenrment had the “right approach to testing” – with 70% demanding a greater role in coordinating local testing. 

This article first appeared on CSW's sister title PoliticsHome.

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