£500m funding boost for rapid testing technologies

A £500 million funding package is being invested in next generation testing technology and increased testing capacity, the Health and Social Care Secretary has announced.

To date, the large-scale COVID-19 testing system has carried out more than 16 million tests and this new funding for quick result test trials and repeat population testing will help take the programme to the next level.

A new, community-wide trial in Salford is being launched to assess the benefits of repeat population testing. Working with Salford Council, local health partners and voluntary and community-based networks, some people living in Salford will be invited for a weekly test. The pilot will explore how regular repeat testing can be made as accessible as possible and will inform how to scale community testing across the country.

Existing, promising trials in Southampton and Hampshire, using a saliva test and a rapid 20-minute test, will also be expanded using the new funding. Phase 2 of the no-swab saliva test pilot in Southampton will trial a weekly testing model in educational settings, with participation from staff and students at the University of Southampton and four Southampton schools. Over 2,100 pupils and staff across four schools will be invited to have a test as part of the pilot. In addition, a pilot of a rapid 20-minute test in Hampshire will further explore the applications of mobile testing in different settings.

The funding will also be used to further extend capacity for existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing across the country. All positive results will be passed to the NHS Test and Trace system, to trace contacts, prevent further transmission, and save lives.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “New testing technologies and methods are vital to keep the system evolving and improving, especially as we assess how routine testing could help pick up cases of the virus earlier.

“We will continue to scale up our testing capacity by expanding our network of testing sites and investing in new technologies to reach even more people through NHS Test and Trace.”