• NHS aims for “significant expansion in coronavirus testing”
  • Local labs will join specialist services already provided by PHE
  • Hospital patients with flu-like symptoms to be tested

NHS laboratories must increase the number of samples they test for covid-19 from around 1,500 to 10,000 a day as the virus continues to spread, system leaders have announced.

The plans for the “significant expansion in coronavirus testing” were set out by NHS England and Public Health England.

An NHSE statement said: “The additional resource to process more tests will mean local hospital labs will join specialist services, including those already provided by PHE, in being able to accurately detect the presence of the new virus, with learning and technology shared across NHS services nationwide.” 

The NHS’ 29 pathology networks would allocate further coronavirus testing to some of their 122 services, and also continue day-to-day analysis for other conditions, the statement added.

NHSE is also introducing seven regional coordination centres to get tests back to people as quickly as possible.

PHE said it has processed more than 25,000 tests as of 10 March. It said it has not exceeded capacity during this time with the great majority of tests being turned around within 24 hours.

As well as testing patients who meet the criteria for being at risk of coronavirus, the NHS and PHE are also carrying out surveillance testing on other groups, including people in wards and surgeries, who are showing signs of the disease.

Clinical guidance from PHE, updated on 10 March, said patients with flu-like symptoms requiring hospital admission should now be treated as possible coronavirus cases, regardless of epidemiological links.

PHE’s national infection service director Sharon Peacock said: “Wider testing is important as it will help to manage demand as the number of people being tested increases in the coming weeks. This will ensure that PHE and the NHS have the most robust system possible to understand what is happening with the virus.

“PHE has continued to process the vast majority of test results within 24 hours of receiving the sample in a PHE laboratory and returning them to NHS colleagues and will continue to do so.”

At time of writing, latest figures show 26,261 people have been tested in the UK, of which 25,888 were confirmed negative and 373 were confirmed as positive. Six patients who tested positive for covid-19 have died.