Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has admitted the Government may not meet its goal of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests, but he praised colleague Matt Hancock for being “bold” in setting the target.
Mr Buckland said the Government is “well on its way” to hitting the number and the Health Secretary deserves praise “even if the target isn’t met today”.
Downing Street has insisted the Government is “working hard” to hit the target of carrying out 100,000 tests.
As of April 28, testing capacity had been increased to 77,365.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “You can chart the progress that we’ve made towards hitting that target and that we are working hard today to ensure that people who need tests get them.”
It came as NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, described the target as a “red herring” which has distracted attention from failings in the long-term Covid-19 strategy.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson added that as many as 120,000 tests would be needed daily for NHS workers once the UK comes out of lockdown, to stave off a second wave of the virus.
With just over 52,000 tests carried out on Tuesday, the Government must make up a huge gap to achieve the goal before Friday.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Buckland acknowledged the target could be missed, adding: “Even if it isn’t met, we’re well on our way to ramping this up and 100,000 is an important milestone, but frankly we need more.
“Yes, 52,000 isn’t 100,000, I know that… but we are straining every sinew to get there.
“If he (Matt Hancock) hadn’t set a target he would have been criticised for being unambitious. I think now is the time in respect of this to be bold… being brave is something we should acknowledge even if the target isn’t met today.”
With 800,000 people working for the NHS, Mr Hopson said there would need to be between 110,00 and 120,000 tests a day for them to be tested once a week.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he added: “There are still health and care workers showing symptoms who are not able to get tests because we are still struggling with capacity and some of the testing centres are too far away.”
Mr Hopson urged the Government to update its coronavirus strategy and to make good its promise to increase testing capacity.
Mr Hopson said: “The focus on ‘are we are going to perform 100,000 tests a day’ is really a red herring because all it does is measure how many tests get performed today.
“What we need to know is what are we going to do in terms of the testing regime over the next six, eight, 10, 12 weeks as we come out of lockdown.”
He pointed to mass testing capabilities in Germany and South Korea, saying: “If you look at the international experience, having the right testing regime is absolutely crucial in conquering this virus.
“We are in a new phase, we are about to try and exit lockdown. If we are going to control the spread of the virus it’s really important we test all staff and patients regularly in healthcare settings.
“What we are missing is we haven’t got the strategy in terms of what the next phase looks like.”
Meanwhile, initial findings of a study aimed at tracking the spread of coronavirus in the general population are expected to be presented early next week.
Around 20,000 households in England were contacted to take part in the first wave of the research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Department of Health and Social Care.
All participants were asked to conduct a swab test to see whether they currently have the virus, while adults in 1,000 households were providing blood samples to find out whether they had previously had Covid-19 and developed antibodies.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The ONS exercise is making good progress, I think we said that we hope to be in a position to say something about the early results at the start of May and that remains the case.”