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Coronavirus: Are these targets being hit?

Covid-19 testing centre in Glasgow

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The UK government has set various targets during its efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Have they been met?

1. 25,000 tests a day by the middle of April

“We will massively scale up our testing capacity in the weeks ahead so we hit 25,000 tests a day” – Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 18 March

Outcome:

On the same day a press release from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) gave more details of the tests to diagnose coronavirus and said “the increased capacity is expected to be ready within four weeks”.

But the government did not hit 25,000 tests a day by mid-April. Only 18,665 tests were conducted in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) on 15 April.

In terms of testing capacity – the amount of tests which could theoretically be carried out on any one day – that stood at more than 30,000 by mid-April.

2. 100,000 tests a day by the end of April

“I am now setting the goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month” – Health Secretary Matt Hancock, 2 April

Outcome:

On 1 May, the government said it had reached the target and announced 122,347 tests for the last day of the month (30 April).

The testing figure had been averaging about 20,000 a day but increased significantly in the last days of April.

When home testing kits were introduced in large numbers towards the end of the month, DHSC began counting those sent out as part of its daily test figures.

So, it doesn’t mean the test was actually used by someone on that day.

Previously, only instances in which the testing swab had been processed through a lab were counted as a test.

The 122,347 figure included about 40,000 kits sent out to homes and test centres.

Prof John Newton, who leads the government’s testing programme, said: “That’s the way they are counted, have always been counted, and the way we were advised to count them by officials.”

On 22 May Prof Newton was asked by a committee of MPs how many home testing kits had been returned for processing in laboratories. He said: “To begin with… certainly more than half and we would like to get that number up.”

According to DHSC figures, more than 930,000 tests have been sent out (these include tests delivered to homes and to satellite testing centres at places like hospitals).

In May, the government has hit its target 17 times and missed it 13 times.

The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland also made pledges on coronavirus testing.

But Wales’s health minister Vaughan Gething announced they were abandoning their promise of conducting 5,000 tests a day by mid-April, blaming problems obtaining testing kits.

Likewise, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted at a press briefing on 23 April that Scotland was unlikely to achieve its original target of 10,000 tests per day by the end of April, saying “we are working towards a capacity of 3,500 by the end of April”.

The Scottish Government announced at the beginning of May that it had reached this reduced target.

3. 200,000 tests per day by the end of May

“The ambition, clearly, is to get up to 200,000 a day by the end of this month, and then to go even higher” – Boris Johnson in Parliament 6 May

On 30 May, the Department of Health announced that the UK had hit the target, with labs able to process 205,634 tests a day.

There had been some confusion as to whether the target for testing by the end of May was 200,000 tests conducted or a capacity of 200,000 tests.

Matt Hancock eventually clarified that it would be the capacity for tests, and that it would include antibody tests (which establish whether somebody previously had the virus) and tests being sent out to a random cross-section of society by statisticians, as well as those conducted on people actually displaying symptoms.

4. Setting up 50 regional testing centres by the end of April

“We are working with Boots and other partners to set up over 50 regional test centres around the country by the end of April” – Matt Hancock statement, 4 April

Outcome:

DHSC told the BBC on 4 May that 49 regional test centres were operational across the country. Mr Hancock had previously said in a statement that there would be “over 50” by the end of April.

The “drive-through” test centres are run by Boots and other commercial providers.

DHSC also said that 96 mobile testing sites were in service by 4 May.

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5. Recruiting 18,000 contact tracers by mid-May

“By mid May, we’ll have an initial 18,000 contact tracers in place” – Matt Hancock, 1 May

Outcome:

On 1 May, Mr Hancock said that the government’s testing programme was the “first element” in the wider strategy to “test, track and trace”. He added that an “initial 18,000” contact tracing staff would be in place “by mid-May”.

Their role is to identify individuals that have Covid-19 and then to “track and trace” anyone they’ve recently been in contact with. Those individuals can then get themselves tested.

On 18 May, Mr Hancock told Parliament that 21,000 contact tracers had been recruited in England, of whom 7,500 were healthcare professionals.

And on 20 May, Mr Johnson told Parliament, “already we have recruited 24,000 trackers – by 1 June we will have 25,000.”

“I have great confidence that by 1 June we will have a system that will help us very greatly to defeat this disease.”

6. Getting all care home workers the protective equipment they needed by late March

“On the personal protective equipment, the answer is by the end of this week.” – Boris Johnson, 25 March

Outcome:

On 25 March, Mr Johnson was asked in parliament when “every single person” working in care homes around the country would receive the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed. He said it would happen by the end of that week.

However, that didn’t appear to happen. In early April, Nadra Ahmed, from the National Care Association, said, “The issue we hear most is, ‘I am desperate for masks. Has anyone got any gloves? I am down to my last stock.’ Once you run out, it is a question of being down to Marigolds and bin liners.”

According to those working in the care home sector, the situation improved later in April but was not resolved.

Martin Green from Care England said on 20 April that “access to PPE remains problematic” and that care homes still need “a consistent supply”.

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The DHSC says that from 25 February to 10 May, 1.22 billion items of PPE have been delivered across the health and social care system in England (it hasn’t given a figure just for care homes though). This figure includes:

  • 164 million masks
  • 192 million aprons
  • 2.3 million gowns
  • 711 million gloves

It has also confirmed that, for this figure, gloves are counted individually (it would be around 355m if counted as pairs).

Concerns about the availability of PPE in care homes have also been raised in Scotland and Wales.

7. Increasing NHS capacity to meet demand

“Making sure that the NHS always has the capacity to treat patients is also mission critical” – Matt Hancock, 17 April

Outcome:

The government has met its objective.

By 18 May, the last day the figures were published, the proportion of critical care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients had fallen to 20% in England, 17% in Wales, 10% in Scotland and 15% in Northern Ireland.

The spare capacity reflects the falling numbers of patients requiring intensive care treatment for the virus.

The government insists that nobody in need of critical care has been unable to get it due to a lack of beds or equipment.

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8. Providing the NHS with 18,000 ventilators

“Our goal, instead of the 30,000, is that we need 18,000 ventilators over the coming two weeks” – Matt Hancock, 5 April

Outcome:

The DHSC told the BBC that, by 5 May, the government had managed to make 10,900 mechanical ventilators available to the NHS across the UK. Mr Hancock’s 18,000 target was for this type of ventilator, according to the DHSC.

The original UK target had been higher but was reduced, Mr Hancock said, because the lockdown and social distancing measures were working to slow the spread of the virus.

A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “Every patient who needs a ventilator has been able to receive this treatment and we are confident that there will be enough ventilators available for everyone who needs one. We continue to keep capacity ahead of demand.”

This article was updated to reflect the latest figures on testing and contact tracers.

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