28.05.2022

Mega labs to open early 2021, doubling government’s testing capacity

This increased daily capacity of 300,000 in each lab will mean faster turnaround times for results, and each facility will have a workforce of up to 2,000 people, said DHSC.

The government has announced the opening of two new “mega labs” early next year, which are set to more than double the UK’s daily coronavirus testing capacity.

One will be based in Leamington Spa and the other in Scotland. The exact location of the latter is yet to be confirmed, said Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman, calling it an “important step in our fight against the virus”.

The latest data on the government’s coronavirus dashboard shows capacity on Sunday was at an estimated 519,951 – with 379,955 tests actually processed.

The government’s test and trace system – once hailed by Boris Johnson as a “world-beating” system – has been impaired by persistent capacity issues.

After a slew of reports in September that people were told to travel hundreds of kilometres to get a Covid-19 test or finding that no tests were available, the head of NHS Test and Trace in England admitted that demand for coronavirus tests was three or four times higher than the total daily capacity.

Meanwhile, the test and trace app, which had been due to be rolled out in May during the UK’s first case spike, eventually went live in September. Antibody tests, described by Mr Johnson as “game-changing” and “as simple as a pregnancy test” in March, failed to materialise as part of the nation’s coronavirus strategy.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, acknowledged that the programme failed to predict the scale of demand for testing as schools and universities returned.

But the new mega labs, which will also be used for critical illness including cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, will “mean another step up in our testing capacity next year”, she said.

“Not only will that mean more tests, but it will also mean they can be processed more quickly, and the time it takes to receive results is reduced,” added Lady Harding.

A recruitment drive has already begun for the Leamington Spa lab and a campaign is due to start shortly in Scotland, the government said.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “We didn’t go into this crisis with a significant diagnostics industry, but we have built one, and these two mega labs are another step forward.

“Transforming the UK’s diagnostic facilities is not only essential to beating this virus, but it is necessary to build back better – so we are better prepared in future for testing on a massive scale.”

He added: “The work going on in these labs is ultimately working to save lives and I am hugely grateful for everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this.”

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