• Government buys 3.5 million antibody tests
  • Testing for NHS front-line staff “online soon”
  • 75 million PPE pieces shipped out in 24 hours
  • Confirms Excel centre to be converted to hospital

The government has bought 3.5 million coronavirus antibody tests — with more widespread testing of NHS workers coming “online soon”, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock also told a press conference this evening that a new testing facility had been opened in Milton Keynes as the government aims to “ramp up” the number of antibody tests — which will determine whether people have had the virus and can therefore return to work.

Mr Hancock also:

It comes after the lack of staff testing, workforce shortages and running out of PPE were the three biggest concerns identified by trust chief executives in an exclusive survey carried out by HSJ

Trust CEOs have raised concerns many staff are self-isolating and absent because either they or a household member are displaying covid-19 symptoms, when increased testing could determine whether they are fit for work.

There have also been major concerns about the level of testing of the wider population, and the speed of turnaround of test results for patients in hospital and for staff.

Mr Hancock said: “I understand why NHS staff in particular and others across public service are so keen to get the testing ramp up that we need to see and that we’re undertaking. Of course, it really matters for getting people back to work.

“So we’ve now bought 3.5 million antibody tests. That will allow people to see whether they have had the virus and are immune to it and then can get back to work.

“Those will come online very soon. In fact, our new testing facility in Milton Keynes opened today and we are therefore on the ramp up of the testing numbers.”

Mr Hancock added the government expected people not to be able to catch covid-19 for a second time “except in very exceptional circumstances”.

He said the government had undertaken “literally a military effort” to get millions of pieces of PPE to services. “If people are working on the front-line to look after us, it’s vital that we look after them,” he said.

Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said the plan was to be able to antibody test NHS staff and bring those safe to work out of isolation. She said: “We’re not there at the moment [but the government is] working really hard to ramp that up.”

She said wider testing would also, towards the end of the epidemic, “give us a real insight into the population demographics” of the virus.

“We will be able to learn far more about how the disease has spread across the population and that might be one of the tools we have when we get towards the end of the epidemic in the UK as well,” Dr Harries said.

“We’ll be able to understand much more about how it transmits and therefore be able to close it down more tightly.”

Nightingale Hospital

It has been confirmed an “NHS Nightingale Hospital” will be constructed in the Excel conference centre in east London. NHS England said it “will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen”.

NHSE said: “The capacity will then continue to increase, potentially up to several thousand beds, should it be required.”

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Under these exceptionally challenging circumstances the NHS is taking extraordinary steps to fight coronavirus. That’s why NHS clinicians and managers are working with military planners and engineers to create, equip, staff and open the NHS Nightingale London, and we’re very grateful for their support.

“This will be a model of care never needed or seen before in this country, but our specialist doctors are in touch with their counterparts internationally who are also opening facilities like this, in response to the shared global pandemic.

“Despite these amazing measures, the fact is no health service in the world will cope if coronavirus lets rip, which is why NHS staff are pleading with the public to follow medical advice — stay at home, stop the virus spreading, and save lives.”