• “Manic” race to reach 100,000 tests per day by end of April
  • Source says government has changed counting mechanism to boost figures
  • Figures now include dispatched home testing kits prior to samples provided 

The government changed the way it counts the number of covid-19 tests in order to hit its target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, HSJ can reveal.

The Department of Health and Social Care is now including tests that have been posted or delivered in its figures. These tests are counted before the recipient has provided and returned their sample to a laboratory.

Speaking at today’s press conference, health secretary Matt Hancock said the government had reached its target yesterday after carrying out more than 122,347 tests on 30 April. However, up to 40,000 of these ’tests’ constitute the dispatch of kits to individuals at home, or to hospitals or other healthcare settings. 

A senior source close to the testing programme told HSJ that work to achieve the 100,000 tests per day had been “manic” and that the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was “obsessed” with reaching the target. “They are trying every trick in the book,” the source said.

“They had to get the permanent secretary at DHSC (Chris Wormald) to agree to a change in the counting process. We’re now counting a home test as tests which have been sent to people’s homes.” The DHSC said the comment about Chris Wormald was incorrect. 

Public Health England’s director of health improvement Professor John Newton – who leads the government’s testing programme – said at today’s press conference there had been “no change to the way tests are counted”, but added “as we’ve developed new ways of delivering tests we’ve taken advice from officials as to how they should be counted. Any test which goes outside the control of the programme…is counted when they leave the programme. That’s the way…we were advised to count them by officials.”

Of the 122,347 tests Mr Hancock said had been carried out yesterday - 39,573 tests were completed at NHS and Public Health England laboratories, while another 39,153 were completed at drive-through sites.

Along with the 27,497 home kits distributed by Amazon and the Royal Mail on behalf of the government – a further 12,872 tests were delivered to “satellite centres” which can be NHS hospitals or other places in need of tests.

HSJ’s source said: “The view is that is unsustainable. It was just a massive one-day mission on the part of Amazon and the Royal Mail”.

HSJ understands the number of home test kits that have been returned by Amazon this week is about one third of the number posted.

The number of tests carried out have increased dramatically in the last week. On 23 April just 23,560 tests were carried out.  

The DHSC referred to Professor Newton’s comments when asked for a response.