Matt Hancock blames ‘low demand’ for UK’s flat numbers of coronavirus tests – but healthcare bosses insist they are STILL struggling to get staff checked
- Matt Hancock today insisted he is sticking to his 100,000 daily tests target
- He claimed demand for tests over Easter weekend was not as high as expected
- But healthcare bosses said they are still struggling to get all their staff checked
- Health Secretary said all symptomatic care home residents will now be tested
- Care home residents in hospital will also be tested before they are allowed back
- Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID
Health bosses today insisted they are still struggling to get their staff tested for coronavirus despite Matt Hancock claiming demand has dipped in recent days.
The Health Secretary told the daily Downing Street press conference that he is sticking to his target of achieving 100,000 daily tests by the end of the month.
He claimed that ‘demand has been lower over the Easter weekend’ for the checks and said that meant the government could now expand its testing regime in the care sector.
However, health chiefs responded to testing being extended in social care by claiming they are ‘continuing to experience difficulties with getting their staff the tests they need to get back to work’ – casting doubt on Mr Hancock’s claims.
The Health Secretary said all care home residents who need a test will now get one while all care home residents in hospital will be tested before they are discharged.
He had already announced that all care home staff and their households who need a test because of the presence of coronavirus symptoms will have access to one.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today claimed testing demand had been lower than expected over the Easter weekend as he announced more tests for the social care sector
The latest testing statistics showed there had been 14,982 carried out in the 24 hours to 9am yesterday. The UK’s current testing capacity is just shy of 20,000.
The Health Secretary said: ‘We have hit each of the goals that we have set on testing and as I say we have had capacity continuing to ramp up this month.
‘The demand has been lower over the Easter weekend as staff haven’t wanted to come forward for testing which is understandable during a long weekend.
‘But the goal is still clear to reach 100,000 by the end of this month.’
Previously, the government’s approach to care home patients who developed coronavirus symptoms was that people would not be tested after five residents tested positive.
The assumption was then that it would be ‘highly likely to be coronavirus’, Mr Hancock said.
The government has been criticised over its approach to helping the social care sector during the current outbreak with claims that ministers had forgotten about staff.
Mr Hancock used today’s press conference to stress that was not the case as he set out the new testing regime.
He was asked how it is possible for the government to roll out more tests to the social care sector given the apparent struggle to increase testing capacity which has been seen in recent weeks.
He said: ‘I am very glad to say that we now are testing regularly NHS staff across the board and we rolled that out from last weekend and we have started also testing social care staff, 4,100 social care staff have already been referred for tests.
‘And as our testing capacity increases so this means that more and more people can be tested.
‘In fact, as some people have reported, over the Easter weekend we had some spare capacity because the number of people coming forward for testing was not as high over the Easter weekend which means that we can now expand testing not only to staff in social care but also within social care settings.
‘The previous rule had been that once five people in a social care setting had tested positive then others with symptoms were deemed to have coronavirus because it was highly likely to be coronavirus.
‘We will now ensure that everybody who has symptoms gets tested and the critical other change is that those leaving hospital will now be tested and they will be put into isolation until those test results come through.
‘If the test results come through positive then they will be held in isolation to make sure that they protect those currently in the care home.’
The NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said the announcement on social care testing was welcome but that the country’s testing capacity is ‘far from where it needs to be’.
Dr Layla McCay, NHS Confederation director, said: ‘The offer of more tests for social care staff is desperately needed as this sector has been suffering in silence during this pandemic.
‘But it comes as health leaders across primary, community and mental health services are continuing to experience difficulties with getting their staff the tests they need to get back to work, despite similar promises being made by government.
‘Things are improving but the country’s testing capacity is far from where it needs to be to meet the ambition of 100,000 a day in just over two weeks – that’s over 85,000 more tests a day than what is happening now.
‘We need absolute clarity from the government on how this will be achieved in such a short space of time, otherwise it will be viewed as a false promise.’