New government funding announced to speed up coronavirus test turnaround times
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced nearly £32m to speed up COVID-19 result turnaround times.
The Welsh Government say the investment “will deliver faster results for contact tracing and ensure Wales is prepared for any increases in cases during the autumn and winter” amid further preparation for a period that has been described as possibly ‘challenging‘, ‘difficult‘ and ‘extraordinary‘.
The announced money will pay for:
- Extra staff and equipment for the Public Health Wales regional laboratories based at University Hospital Wales, Cardiff, Morriston Hospital, Swansea and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd Rhyl, so they can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Creation of six Hot Labs at acute hospitals “across Wales”, which will have rapid, under four hour, testing equipment and new testing equipment for other conditions to free up staff to work on COVID-19 testing. They will operate from 08.00 – 22.00, seven days a week.
It is expected the three regional laboratories will be able to operate 24 hours from October.
The six new Hot labs will be up and running in November.
Mr Gething said: “This investment will ensure we have the laboratory capacity in Wales to deliver our Test, Trace, Protect strategy to keep coronavirus under control, and be ready for the winter.”
“I hope we don’t need to use all the testing capacity this investment will create but we have to be prepared. The science tells us the virus will spread more quickly in the colder, wetter months so we can expect an increase in spread later this year.”
“This investment will increase our resilience and ensure our testing and contact tracing systems are robust enough to deal with whatever winter brings.”
“We all want to be able to return to normal life and to ease restrictions as much as possible. Our Test, Trace, Protect strategy is key to achieving that, by enabling us to quickly identify people with coronavirus symptoms; identify new hotspots and isolate as many contacts as possible.”
Test turnaround data is measured from the date a sample is recorded as being collected to the time the result is authorised. It does not indicate how long it takes for an individual to receive their result from point of testing. The full dataset comes with an explainer of different scenarios where the nature of testing can slow the overall turnaround process, for example care homes may complete batches of tests across different staff shifts before returning the tests by a courier.
In the week starting the 3rd August there had been 10,024 tests authorised as part of a key worker asymptomatic screening programme, with 37.3% authorised within one day. There had been 3,141 tests authorised as part of on demand testing in the community, with 69.9% authorised within one day. There have been 4,494 tests authorised at hospital, with 88.4% authorised within one day.
Dr Tracey Cooper, Chief Executive of Public Health Wales, said: “This investment will allow us to make some fundamental changes to our laboratory services that will significantly increase their capacity and resilience, both in the context of the current pandemic and in the longer term.
“We are already working behind the scenes to implement these changes and have recently launched a recruitment drive to recruit up to 160 staff into the new roles made possible by this investment.”
The initial outlay on staffing and new equipment is expected to be nearly £8m and the cost of carrying out tests is expected to vary between £8 – £24m depending on demand.
Welsh Government say the six new Hot Labs will be based at:
Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli
Morriston Hospital, Swansea
Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend
Prince Charles Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil
University Hospital, Llandough.
Grange Hospital, Cwmbran
Welsh Government’s press release noted those locations as being ‘across Wales’, which appears to be West to East.
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