Health

Coronavirus: Test turnaround times getting longer in England


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The government says there is high demand for coronavirus tests

People using community coronavirus testing centres in England are waiting longer for their results, figures show.

Only a third of tests carried out in community venues came back in 24 hours in the week up to 9 September.

That is down from two-thirds the week before, NHS Test and Trace said.

Access to community testing has had to be rationed because labs are struggling to keep up with demand, but this is the first evidence tests which do happen are taking longer to process.

There are three types of community testing centres – drive-throughs, walk-in centres and mobile units that are deployed to hotspot areas.

All three saw rises in turnaround times.

  • Average turnaround times for regional drive-through centres rose from 20 to 27 hours, with 38% returned in 24 hours
  • For local walk-in centres the average was 35 hours, with just one in five results delivered in 24 hours
  • Mobile units faired best with an average of 26 hours, up from 19 the week before. Some 38% of results were given in 24 hours.

Over the week, 360,000 tests were carried out in these three settings, up from around 320,000 the week before.

The release of the turnaround times comes as growing numbers of people complain they cannot access tests at all.

Booking slots at testing sites as well as the availability of kits that are posted out to people’s homes have been restricted across the UK because labs are not able to keep up with demand.

It has meant tests have had to be prioritised for high-risk areas, including care homes and areas where there are local outbreaks.

Experts are warning the problems will limit the UK’s ability to contain spread of the virus.

Hospital labs, which process tests for patients and NHS staff, are not affected by the problems. Nearly nine in 10 tests are turned around in 24 hours.

The government said testing capacity would be increasing. Currently 375,000 tests a day can be processed – although only around 160,000 of these are in the labs that process community tests.

Two new labs are due to open soon, which would bring overall capacity to 500,000 by the end of October, with another two planned for early in 2021, the government said.

NHS Test and Trace boss Baroness Dido Harding said: “We are working tirelessly to boost testing capacity so that everyone who needs a test can get one.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is that only those with symptoms book tests. The service is there for those experiencing a high temperature, new continuous cough or loss or change in sense of taste or smell.

“If you don’t have symptoms but think, or have been told by NHS Test and Trace that you have been in contact with someone with the virus, please stay at home but do not book a test,” she said.

“We need everyone to help make sure that tests are there for people with symptoms who need them.”



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