• Intensive care teams and other key groups prioritised for staff testing
  • But NHS bosses want to roll out testing widely as quickly as possible
  • Two new field hospitals also confirmed by Sir Simon

Coronavirus testing for NHS frontline staff will be rolled out from this weekend and expanded next week, the government and Sir Simon Stevens announced.

The NHS England chief executive made the announcement during his first appearance at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing, where he also revealed field hospitals would be built in Birmingham and Manchester, in addition to London.

The briefing, the first since it was announced earlier today that prime minister Boris Johnson and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty tested positive for coronavirus, also heard infection rates of covid-19 were now doubling every three to four days.

Sir Simon said hundreds of antigen tests would start going to key NHS staff such as intensivists and critical care workers over the weekend, and that accident and emergency staff and GPs would also be prioritised, with testing “dramatically scaled up” next week.

He said: “We think it’s urgently important that we’re able to test frontline staff who are off sick or who are otherwise isolating.

“We will be rolling out staff testing across the NHS, beginning next week, starting with critical care nurses, other staff in intensive care, emergency departments, ambulance services and GPs.

“And as the testing volumes continue to increase, we want to expand that to a wider range of essential public service workers including social care services, as well as continuing with patient testing, which is so vital.”

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove said: “These tests will be trialled for people on the frontline starting immediately, with hundreds to take place by the end of the weekend – dramatically scaling up next week.”

Sir Simon also announced two new field hospitals for coronavirus patients at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre and Manchester’s Central Convention Centre would be constructed. This follows news earlier this week that a temporary hospital will open at the Excel Centre in London next week.

The NHS boss said 33,000 beds had been freed up for covid-19 patients so far, including around 3,000 in London. This is the equivalent of around 50 hospitals, he said.

The NHS would double the amount of coronavirus tests being carried out by this time next week, Sir Simon told media.

Mr Gove filled in for Mr Johnson at the briefing after the prime minister tested positive for covid-19. Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has also tested positive for the virus.