Minister admits government could miss 100,000-a-day coronavirus testing target

(Andrew Milligan/PA)

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland admitted the government may not meet its goal of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests but said "he was confident" the target would be met in the "next few days."

Mr Buckland said "it was right" Health Secretary Matt Hancock set the "ambitious aim."

It came as NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, described the target as a “red herring” which has distracted attention from failings in the long-term Covid-19 strategy.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said as many as 120,000 tests would be needed daily for NHS workers once the UK comes out of lockdown, to stave off a second wave of the virus.

With just over 52,000 tests carried out on Tuesday, the government must make up a huge gap to achieve the goal before Friday.

Mr Buckland told ITV News: "We need to ramp it up even further, if we're going to reach everybody who needs those tests.

"I make no apology for the government being bold, it was the right thing to do, and we're going in the right direction."

He acknowledged the target could be missed, adding: "I'm optimistic, having seen the direction of travel over the last few days, that we are going to be there very soon indeed.

"That's good news for not just NHS and care workers but for people who are systematic, who are over 65, and who will be able to assess tests not just in the centres but via mobile units and home testing as well, that is being ramped up."

NHS Providers chief executive Mr Hopson said NHS staff and patients would need to be tested regularly to control the spread of the virus once lockdown measures are eased.

With 800,000 people working for the NHS, Mr Hopson said there would need to be between 110,00 and 120,000 tests a day for them to be tested once a week.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he added: “There are still health and care workers showing symptoms who are not able to get tests because we are still struggling with capacity and some of the testing centres are too far away.”

Mr Hopson urged the government to update its coronavirus strategy and to make good its promise to increase testing capacity.

Credit: PA Graphics

In a report released on Tuesday, NHS Providers said the English health and care system “started from a poor position” as Covid-19 tightened its grip on Europe, and consistently struggled to demonstrate a “clear, effective and well communicated strategy”, with a lack of clarity on who would be tested, when, how, and with what frequency.

Mr Hopson said: “The focus on ‘are we are going to perform 100,000 tests a day’ is really a red herring because all it does is measure how many tests get performed today.

“What we need to know is what are we going to do in terms of the testing regime over the next six, eight, 10, 12 weeks as we come out of lockdown.”

He pointed to mass testing capabilities in Germany and South Korea, saying: “If you look at the international experience, having the right testing regime is absolutely crucial in conquering this virus.

“We are in a new phase, we are about to try and exit lockdown. If we are going to control the spread of the virus it’s really important we test all staff and patients regularly in healthcare settings.

“What we are missing is we haven’t got the strategy in terms of what the next phase looks like.”

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