The government has changed the way it is counting the number of covid-19 tests carried out in a bid to hit its target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, we can reveal.
Previously, a test would be counted once the sample had been processed in laboratories. But this definition has been changed in the last few days, a senior source has told us.
The Department of Health and Social Care is now including tests that have been posted or delivered to people’s homes in its figures. This means tests which are sent to people are counted before the recipient has provided and returned their sample to a laboratory.
We understands that up to 50,000 of the tests that will be reported as having taken place on 30 April will actually represent the mailing or the agreeing to mail a home testing kit.
In the last seven days (23-30 April) the number of tests reported by the government rose from 23,560 to 81,611.
The source told us that work to achieve the 100,000 tests per day had been “manic” and that the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was “obsessed” with reaching the target. “They are trying every trick in the book,” the source said.
“They had to get the permanent secretary at DHSC (Chris Wormald) to agree to a change in the counting process.
“We’re now counting a home test as tests which have been sent to people’s homes.”
Testing for covid-19 has been predominantly carried out under two of Mr Hancock’s five “pillars”, within the government’s testing strategy.
These are tests at laboratories run by Public Health England and NHS hospitals (Pillar One) and swab tests at dozens of community sites across the UK (Pillar Two), with the latter including the posting of home testing kits and deliveries by companies such as Amazon.
We have been told around 27,000 home tests were posted to people yesterday as part of pillar two work. They will form part of today’s testing figures which are yet to be published.
Our source said: “The view is that is unsustainable. It was just a massive one-day mission on the part of Amazon and the Royal Mail”.
Meanwhile, the government has recently announced two testing programmes under Pillar Four, which will eventually include hundreds of thousands of people.
One of the programmes, announced on Wednesday and led by Imperial College, Imperial College Health Healthcare Trust and polling company Ipsos Mori, will see 100,000 home testing kits sent to people across the country.
Around 25,000 home testing kits were posted to people yesterday through this scheme. On Wednesday, only 1,150 tests under Pillar Four had been carried out.
The other Pillar Four programme, announced on 23 April, aims to track coronavirus in the general population and is led by the DHSC and Office for National Statistics, with the help of University of Oxford, data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes.
Testing figures for yesterday will be announced later today.
The DHSC has been approached for comment.