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All coronavirus tests are to be turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, the Prime Minister has said.
But speaking in the Commons Boris Johnson said the target would need to take into account “insuperable problems” such as postal delays.
The 24 hour target was announced on 27 May, but no deadline was set.
The head of the testing service has said 84% of drive-in centre tests come back within a day – but no equivalent figure has been provided for home kits.
Questioned on the Test and Trace programme during Prime Minister’s Questions by Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health Select Committee, Mr Johnson said: “I can undertake to him now to get all tests turned around in 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that.”
Last week the head of England’s testing programme, Dido Harding, said 84% of tests at drive-in centres were returned within 24 hours, and 95% within 48 hours. No figure was provided for home testing kits, or those provided at other settings.
The programme means anyone with a positive coronavirus test will be contacted to report their recent encounters with people, and places they have visited.
Speedy test results are important when it comes to tracing the contacts of an infected person, and checking whether NHS staff can go back to work.
The tests involve a nose and throat swab which is then used to look for the virus’s genetic material. It detects active coronavirus infection, so cannot say if someone has recovered from Covid-19.
‘At the mercy of the disease’
Estimates suggest 25-30% of tests produce false negative results – where people test negative despite having the virus.
The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), which represents hospital doctors, has called for NHS staff to be tested more than once to confirm a negative result.
Dr Claudia Paoloni, the union’s president, says relying on a single negative result risked “infecting patients and staff”.
In evidence to the Commons health and social care committee, the HCSA said the government had “refused requests” to provide information on the accuracy of coronavirus tests.
And it added that there had been no transparency on how the more than four million tests so far have been carried out – including manufacturers’ names, data on accuracy and details on any tests no longer in use.
GP, and diagnostic tests researcher, Dr Jessica Watson told Daily Week Radio 4’s More or Less programme the “best guess” was about 70 in every 100 people who have coronavirus would be picked up by the testing programme.
Factors affecting the outcome include at what point in their illness someone is tested, how good a sample is taken affected results, along with any problems with processing tests, she said.
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