Coronavirus: Matt Hancock vows UK will test 100,000 per day by end of April amid criticism of Government strategy
Matt Hancock revealed a 'five pillar' plan to ramp up Covid-19 testing (Sky News)
The UK will ramp up testing for coronavirus to 100,000 per day by the end of the month, Matt Hancock has claimed.
The Health Secretary, who tested positive for the illness last week, said he is returning to work “more determined than ever to fight this disease".
He made the announcement as the Government attempts to head off criticism of the amount of testing for Covid-19 they have undertaken in comparison with other counties.
In his first public appearance after self-isolating for seven days, Mr Hancock revealed at the Downing Street press briefing they were also wiping out NHS debt and making £300million available for community pharmacies.
“Today, to help NHS trusts to deliver what's needed without worrying about past finances, I can announce that I'm writing off £13.4 billion of historic NHS debt,” he said.
"This landmark step will not only put the NHS in a stronger position to be able to respond to this global coronavirus pandemic, but it will ensure that our NHS has stronger foundations for the future too.”
After suggestions the UK is not testing enough people for the deadly disease, the Cabinet minister unveiled a "five pillar" plan to increase capacity from 10,000 per day to 100,000.
He said the plan would include moving to provide 25,000 swab tests per day for frontline staff; teaming up with private companies to establish more swab testing; new antibody blood tests to see who has already had Covid-19; surveillance to measure the rate and spread of infection; and building up the UK's diagnostics industry "at-scale".
Mr Hancock said: "Robust population surveillance programmes are essential to understanding the rate of infection and how the virus is spreading across the country.
"We will use these tests to strengthen our scientific understanding and inform us on the big choices we have to make about social distancing and how we exit from this crisis.
“We did not start this crisis with a large diagnostics industry, but that doesn't mean that we can't build one.
“Just as our top end manufacturers have joined up the national effort to build ventilators, so the pharmaceutical companies will do the same for testing.
“Our pharmaceutical giants like Astrozenica and GSK, which have no great history in diagnostics, are now working with our world leading but small diagnostics companies to build a British diagnostics industry at scale.
“The new national effort for testing will ensure that we can get tests for everyone who needs them.
“And I am delighted that the pharmaceutical industry is rising to this challenge and putting unprecedented resources into testing.
“Taken together, I am now setting the goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month.
“That is the goal - and I am determined that we will get there."
Mr Hancock also confirmed this boost in capacity would mean all front-line health and social care staff will be tested.
”I can give that firm commitment that all the frontline NHS staff who need tests will get them by the end of this month,” he explained.
“By then we will be doing 100,000 tests a day. That 100,000 goal is across all five pillars.”
He added: "I return from illness more determined than ever to fight this disease.
“We will bring together the best minds, we will bring together the best science that this country has to offer.
“And we will work with our friends and allies from around the world as we do so.
“Because we are in the midst of a war against an invisible enemy, and it is a war in which all of humanity is on the same side.
“And history has shown that when the world unites together against a common foe then we will prevail."
He also paid tribute to the NHS staff who have already lost their lives fighting the pandemic, saying: "I am profoundly moved by the compassion and the commitment that we are seeing from people right across the country, and in the health and care system we have lost colleagues too.
"Doctors, nurses, mental health professionals: they have paid the ultimate price for their service - working to care for others.
"I just want to say this on behalf of all my colleagues in health and social care: I am awed by the dedication of colleagues on the frontline, every single person, who contributes to the running of this diverse and caring institution that our nation holds so dear.
"Many of those who have died who are from the NHS were people who came to this country to make a difference, and they did, and they've given their lives in sacrifice, and we salute them."