Government’s 100,000 a day test target a ‘red herring’ to distract from coronavirus strategy shortcomings, say hospitals

NHS Providers says UK has "struggled" to demonstrate a "clear, effective and well-communicated strategy”

Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

By Alain Tolhurst

30 Apr 2020

Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

The government’s target of testing 100,000 people a day for coronavirus is a “red herring” which is distracting from the shortcomings in the overall long-term response to the outbreak, a leading hospitals group has warned.

NHS providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts, says in a new that report the English health and care system "started from a poor position" as Covid-19 began to spread to Europe earlier this year.

And it warns that the country consistently "struggled" to demonstrate a "clear, effective and well-communicated strategy”.


"A vast amount still remains to be done to reach a testing regime that can be described as fit for purpose," it says.

The warning comes on the final day in April, by which point the health secretary Matt Hancock promised the UK would be able to test 100,000 per day.

The latest figures show only just over half that number were checked for the virus on Tuesday, 28 April, with capacity at 73,000.

After a massive expansion in the eligibility criteria for getting a test was announced on Monday, the scientist advising the government on testing, Prof John Newton, said he is confident the target will be met.

However he warned there will be a lag in the data due to the increase in home-testing kits and drive-through appointments which take longer to process, meaning we will not know the full figure until a few days later.

But NHS Providers said: “The recent public focus on whether 100,000 tests will be performed on April 30 is a red herring."

And Chris Hopson, its chief executive, said what is needed more than hitting a number is clarity on how the testing regime will be developed for the next phase.

He said: "Testing is one area where, despite all the work delivered by trusts and the NHS, the health and care system as a whole has struggled to develop an effective, coordinated approach.

"As we consider the route out of lockdown, what trust leaders need now is clarity on the testing regime from here on.

"Setting a target for a number of tests for April 30 may have had a galvanising effect. But what matters most is an updated strategy to take us through the exit from lockdown."

His group’s report described the target as "arbitrary" and said it risked preventing the development of a "proper, next stage testing strategy", adding: "It may be testing for testing's sake."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said testing was "absolutely critical”, and added: "Our aim as we tackle this virus is to make it easy, fast and simple for any essential worker who needs a test to get a test.

"In addition to setting up a nationwide network of drive in testing sites, we have introduced home testing kit delivery, deployed mobile testing units operated by the Armed Forces, and built three new 'mega labs' to analyse test samples."

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