£32 million to boost Covid-19 testing turnaround times

Test swabs. Photo by Vesna Harni from Pixabay

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced nearly £32 million of funding to speed up the turnaround times of Covid-19 tests.

The investment is intended to deliver faster results for contact tracing and ensure Wales is better prepared for any second wave of infections over the autumn and winter.

The extra money will pay for additional staff and equipment for the Public Health Wales regional laboratories based at University Hospital Wales, Cardiff, Morriston Hospital, Swansea and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd Rhyl, to enable them to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will also be used to create six new “Hot Labs” at acute hospitals across Wales.

These will have rapid testing equipment and new testing equipment for other conditions to free up staff to work on Covid-19 testing. The new facilities 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.

They 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

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.

Mr Gething said: “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.”

The government has consistently struggled to meet its own benchmark of a 24-hour turnaround for test results. Last week, 56% of 18,000 tests taken to Welsh laboratories were being processed within a day.

More than half of the tests were part of the routine surveillance to check care home workers who might have the virus but were not showing symptoms.

Just over a third of those results came back within 24 hours.

On-demand tests, where swabs are taken at drive-through centres or community hubs, met the 24-hour target in 70% of cases and 88% of tests in hospitals hit the target.

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