• Officials at NHSE/I told local leaders a testing target will be agreed for each pathology network
  • Once a target has been agreed, NHSE/I will commit to delivering the necessary swabs and reagents

Local systems will have to sign up to meeting targets for coronavirus testing in exchange for a national commitment to deliver the necessary equipment, HSJ has learned.

According to multiple sources, officials at NHS England and NHS Improvement told local leaders on a conference call that a testing target will be agreed for each pathology network.

They said each network will be asked to submit a proposed target, and this may then be subject to some negotiation.

Once a target has been agreed, NHSE/I will commit to delivering the necessary swabs and reagents required to carry out the tests. Local networks will then be “performance managed” against the targets, the sources said.

The commitments would refer to polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests carried out in local pathology labs. PCR tests are used to directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies. They detect whether someone is carrying the virus at the point of testing.

The conference call was led by David Wells, head of the pathology covid-19 testing cell. NHSE/I was approached for comment.

The government has pledged to increase testing capacity to 200,000 per day by the end of May.

The latest testing figures said just over 100,000 were carried out yesterday, of which around 25,000 were carried out in Public Health England and local NHS labs.

Around three-quarters were carried out by commercial labs including in Milton Keynes and Alderley Park in Cheshire.

There are 29 pathology networks covering England.