UK faces backlog of nearly 200,000 Covid-19 tests in government labs

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UK government testing labs are facing a backlog of nearly 200,000 Covid-19 tests and must send samples overseas to help reduce stress on the system, amid growing concern about the ‘lack of a robust testing and tracing system.

There was a backlog of 185,000 tests on Friday, according to documents from the Department of Health and Welfare leaked to the Sunday Times, with some tests being sent to Italy and Germany for processing.

“The technology is there, the tests are there, they just aren’t using it,” said Kelly Klifa, co-founder of Testing For All, a nonprofit that offers affordable Covid-19 testing. “Test centers have tests, so the bottleneck is the labs themselves – tests are routed to the wrong places.”

At the start of the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to put in place a “global” testing strategy, but this part of the government’s response to coronaviruses has proven to be one of the most controversial.

Widespread testing was halted early in the outbreak, in part due to a lack of capacity in public laboratories. After Health Secretary Matt Hancock set a target of 100,000 tests per day to be performed by the end of April, the government opened a network of “flagship labs” to expand treatment.

But these labs have been mired in setbacks and in recent weeks have found themselves unable to meet growing demand from members of the public, increasingly eager to be tested as they are encouraged to return to work and school. .

The leaked government document shows several labs across the UK are processing far fewer tests than their stated capacity. He also indicated that there was a significant problem with “canceled” tests, with 4.3% of tests facing this fate, mainly due to “sample leaks.”

“It is estimated that 109 people who scored zero could have been positive,” the document said.

The document also showed that three-quarters of test results were not provided within 24 hours – the goal declared by the government – and one-quarter were not processed within 48 hours.

The government has previously claimed that the testing capacity in the country is 375,000 tests per day, although the number of tests currently being carried out is closer to 230,000 per day.

Earlier this week, Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, questioned the government’s competence in handling mass tests.

“The prime minister needs to know how anxious hundreds of families are – last week they were sent across the country and told there were no tests,” he said. -he declares. “It cannot be swept away. These are basic things. . . the Prime Minister must take his responsibilities.

“We need a functional testing regime, but far from the world-beating system we have been promised the government cannot even understand the basics.”

He also hinted at mixed messages from the government and testing officials about who was responsible for the backlog – lab shortages or the public for not sticking to guidelines about when to order tests.

The government announced an ambitious ‘moonshot’ plan last week to perform Covid-19 tests on millions of people per day early next year.

As part of this plan, huge swaths of the population could be regularly checked, either with new swab tests that deliver results in 20 minutes, and don’t have to be sent to a lab, or for tests. of self-administered saliva.

The Department of Health and Welfare said: ‘NHS Test and Trace is working and our capacity is the highest ever, but we are seeing a significant demand for testing, including from people who are not showing symptoms. and are not eligible.

“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for those who need it and we are targeting testing capacity in areas that need it most, including those with an outbreak. , and prioritize at-risk groups. ”

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