Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had met its target to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April after 122,347 tests were performed in the 24 hours up to 9am on Friday.
Around 39,000 had been sent out to households and satellite testing locations, with no guarantee of the timescale for their completion, but were still included in the count.
The figure marked a significant rise on Thursday’s total of 81,611 tests, and comfortably exceeded the 100,000 daily target. The latest figure of 122,000 tests were carried out on 73,000 people, with the remainder being retests.
Hancock praised colleagues and private sector partners for the rapid increase in testing capability, which has seen mobile testing units and new labs created – and defended the target itself.
“Setting stretching, ambitious goals in a national crisis has a galvanising effect on everyone involved,” he said. “I knew that it was an audacious goal but we needed an audacious goal,” he said. “I can announce that we have met our goal.”
However, Hancock was criticised by his Labour shadow, Jon Ashworth. “Many would have expected the 100,000 promise to have been met by actually carrying out testing, not simply because 39,000 kits had been mailed out,” Ashworth said.
“This headline figure shouldn’t count tests that hadn’t been used or indeed might never be used. Ministers promised us transparency, the public and NHS deserve clarity.”
He also complained that the target was “never a strategy,” saying ministers should be using the lockdown period to “put the fundamentals of infectious disease control in place”.
Earlier on Friday, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) claimed that, until recently, tests were only recorded in the daily count once they had been sent to a laboratory for analysis. The government denied there had been a change.
An unnamed senior source told the HSJ that the change had been made because Hancock, the health and social care secretary, was “obsessed” with honouring his testing pledge.
Last week, an online portal was launched allowing drive-through tests and home testing kits to be booked by symptomatic key workers and, later, over-65s, those needing to work outside the home, care home staff and residents.
Hancock has come under intense pressure over the 100,000-a-day target since making it. At the time, the government was clear that the figure represented the number of people having a test. The current testing total used by ministers includes tens of thousands of retests.
Recently, Hancock stressed that his aim was to have in place by the end of April the capacity to undertake 100,000 daily tests.
According to the HSJ, Chris Wormald, the Department of Health’s permanent secretary, signed off what appeared to be a major and previously unannounced change to the way the headline daily number is calculated.
Challenged about the HSJ story, Hancock said: “It’s not something I recognise.”