Matt Hancock Signals Weekly Covid Tests For NHS And Social Care Staff

The health secretary has given the strongest hint yet that 90-minute tests could be rolled out across the country, and confirmed saliva and "pooled" testing is being trialled.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has given his strongest signal yet that weekly mass testing of NHS, social care and school staff could start this autumn thanks to new 90-minute Covid tests.

In his first update to the Commons since its summer break, Hancock told MPs that he wanted to roll out “as widely as possible” new rapid swab tests as well as tests that used saliva and “pooled” several cases at once for speed.

At the moment, a third of tests take longer than 24 hours to process and the delays are hindering the government’s NHS Test and Trace service.

But when pressed by Labour, and Tory health select committee chairman Jeremy Hunt, Hancock made clear he wanted the “on the spot” tests to be used as soon as they were approved by regulators and by testing experts at Public Health England’s Porton Down laboratory.

“It’s my intention to deploy as much testing as possible using the new testing innovations that are coming on-stream and to deploy it as widely as possible following clinical advice,” he told Hunt.

“We’ve set out the process that we propose to use on the current generation of testing capability but if a new, easier type of test gets over the line then, of course, we’ll always keep that under clinical review and guided by the clinicians.”

Hancock said a major breakthrough could be the “rapid test for coronavirus and other winter viruses that’ll help provide on-the-spot results in under 90 minutes helping us to break chains of transmission quickly”.

“These tests do not require a trained health professional to operate them, so they can be rolled out in more non-clinical settings,” he said.

Hunt had asked whether the government intended to introduce regular weekly testing for NHS staff, teachers and others in regular contact with the public who could transmit the virus.

“Surely that is the best way to reassure patients that their hospital is safe and parents that their kids’ school is safe as well,” the former health secretary said.

Asked by Tory MP for Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith if he wanted “the two new groundbreaking tests that can protect coronavirus in as little as 90 minutes” to be “rolled out as quickly as possible, but particularly in care settings”, Hancock replied: “Yes I do.”

He added: “I’ve put everything I’ve possibly got into driving it as fast as possible, subject to it working effectively.”

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth had called for the adoption of saliva tests, which are used in Hong Kong for rapid results and avoid the more invasive approach of taking swabs from the back of the throat and nose.

He also called for ministers to look at “pooled” testing, which allows several individuals in low prevalence areas to be tested in the same batch to confirm negative results.

Hancock replied: “It’s important that we use the world class facilities that we have at Porton Down [laboratory] to make sure that tests are validated before we use them in public. But saliva testing and blood testing are both options that we’re working on.”

The health secretary said that he would “shortly” be launching a new public information campaign reminding people of the “Hands. Face. Space” slogan to stop the spread of coronavirus, as well as the need to get a free test if showing symptoms.


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