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The government has said it successfully met its target of testing 100,000 people per day for coronavirus by the end of April.
But health secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of manipulating the figures to ensure he met the goal he set for himself on April 2.
The deadline for hitting the goal passed on Thursday, but the time lag in reporting data meant the result was not known until Friday.
Hancock announced at today’s Downing Street press conference that 122,347 tests had been conducted on Thursday.
The health secretary said testing was “crucial to suppress the virus” and would “help us to unlock the lockdown”.
It comes as total of 27,510 people have now died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for the illness.
But according to HSJ, the government changed how it counted the numbers as it moved to ensure the health secretary’s pledge was kept.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is said to have started including in its figures tests which were delivered to people’s homes but had yet to be returned to laboratories with a sample.
Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister, said Hancock must “urgently clarify” the process.
“We want the government’s test, isolate and trace strategy to succeed and welcomed expanding who was eligible to get a test, but counting a test put in the post is not the same as a conducted test and getting results,” he said.
“Ministers should focus on making sure these tests are administered effectively rather than moving the goalposts to hit their own arbitrary target.
Lib Dem acting leader Ed Davey said: “The health secretary’s arbitrary target of 100,000 tests by the end of April was always a hostage to fortune, and the truth is, he missed it.
“It’s extremely disappointing the government have decided to massage the metrics rather than admit they fell short, as this will only undermine public confidence.
“Everyone wants the country to succeed in beating this awful disease but the British public won’t be so easily fooled by manipulation.
“It’s deeply regrettable but we’re still miles off the large-scale testing programme that will be an essential part of any plan to ease out of lockdown through a test, trace and isolate approach.”
But Hancock said today the teams who increased capacity, had “joined in one of the greatest national mobilisations we’ve seen”.
“Setting stretching, ambitious goals in a crisis has a galvanising effect on everybody involved. It is a mission,” he said.
“If we hadn’t been so bold, if we’d chosen a safer, easier path, I just can’t see how we would have built the capacity that we need.”
There was a sharp increase in the number of reported tests carried out each day as the deadline approached.
On Monday just 43,453 tests had been conducted, but this jumped to 52,429 on Tuesday and to 81,611 on Wednesday.
Boris Johnson has promised to deliver a “comprehensive plan” next week on how the lockdown may be eased.
The prime minister declared yesterday the UK was now “past the peak” of the outbreak.