Covid-19 testing is not as fast as Matt Hancock claimed

6 July 2020
What was claimed

At regional Covid-19 test centres, 98% of results are delivered within 24 hours.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The most recent figure is about 72%.

What was claimed

At mobile Covid-19 testing units, 97% of results are delivered within 24 hours.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The most recent figure is about 61%.

“Really proud of my amazing testing team who’ve delivered 24-hr turnaround times of:
- 98% for drive through testing
- 97% for mobile testing units”

Matt Hancock, 2 July 2020

The secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, tweeted last Thursday that virtually all the Covid-19 tests performed at regional sites (which includes drive-through testing), or at mobile testing units, were delivering results within 24 hours. This is not true.

According to the latest official Test and Trace data for England published the same day, “71.8% of test results were received within 24 hours of the test being taken” at regional test sites, and 60.6% at mobile testing units. This covers tests taken in the week ending 24 June.

We asked DHSC about this on Thursday and have not yet received an answer, but on Saturday Mr Hancock added a reply to correct his original tweet. The reply included a link to the official data, and said: “To be clear on this - this refers to the proportion of test results that are returned the very next day.”

This is a different measurement, which includes some test results delivered after more than 24 hours­­—for instance if somebody takes a test on Monday morning, then receives the result on Tuesday evening.

The government does not publish detailed data on this measurement, but it is mentioned in the latest Test and Trace bulletin, which says about regional test sites: “If we consider the day the test was taken, this means that 98.0% of tests results were received the next day after the test was taken.” For mobile testing units, it gives a figure of 96.7%.

The government committed itself to a target of all non-postal tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June. When we asked what was meant by “turning around”, a government spokesperson told us: “Testing times are defined as time taken to process a result from when the sample is provided. That’s what the 24 hour target will focus on.”

We will write about whether this target has been met once the data for the end of June has been published, on Thursday 9 July.

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