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Coronavirus: Medical Equipment

Question for Department of Health and Social Care

UIN 49690, tabled on 20 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the effect of an international lack of availability of high throughput testing machines on access to those machines by the NHS; how many lower throughput open platform machines are in use by Public Health England; and what the effect of that lack of availability is on Public Health England’s testing capacity.

Answered on

7 July 2020

NHS England is currently reviewing high-throughput testing capability in close collaboration with our pathology testing laboratories to support access to high throughput testing platforms across each of our 29 pathology laboratory networks.

There are various testing platforms in use throughout the National Health Service and Public Health England (PHE) testing laboratories, including high throughput and lower throughput platforms. This review will enable the NHS to sustainably increase Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing capacity across England.

Nine PHE labs provide diagnostic testing capacity to support pillar 1 of the Government’s testing strategy. The size and nature of the laboratories vary, and they do not all use the same machines. PHE labs have a number of ‘open’ molecular extraction, liquid handling and molecular amplification platforms as well as a number of high throughput end-to-end platforms which are being used to undertake a significant proportion of COVID-19 testing.

There is a sufficient number of platforms to meet the demands on PHE for testing under pillar 1 of the Government’s testing strategy. PHE and NHS laboratories, together with a PHE partnership with Roche, achieved the target for pillar 1 of 25,000 tests a day by the end of April.