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Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services

First published:
17 September 2020
Last updated:

Wales, as elsewhere in the UK, is experiencing a significant increase in demand for testing.  In the week commencing 7 September, nearly 64,000 people received test results, up from just over 45,000 the previous week.  This is the highest number of tests processed in one week and represents a marked increase in throughput. We have been building testing capacity in Wales since the beginning of the pandemic and have complimented this by making use of UK Lighthouse Lab network, demand is now outstripping that testing capacity and we are seeing the pressure on those Lighthouse Labs.

We are acutely aware of the challenges now posed by the problems in UK Lighthouse Labs. We are pressing the UK Government to resolve these issues as soon as possible and I have had discussions with the Secretary of State for Health to seek his assurance that the issues are being addressed as a priority.  

I am extremely grateful to the work of local authorities, Health Boards, WAST and Public Health Wales for the swift action that they took over the weekend and into this week to ensure that testing in our priority areas could continue operating in response to the increase in cases that we have seen over the last week.

I want to set out for Members of the Senedd the actions we are taking to provide additional testing capacity going forward.

As Members of the Senedd will be aware I have previously announced additional investment of £32m in our Public Health Wales testing capacity.  This investment will provide 24 hour working at our regional labs in Cardiff, Swansea and Rhyl as well as 6 new hot labs situated in our acute general hospitals.  This will boost our resilience and improve turnaround times. 

Working with Local Health Boards and Public Health Wales we have agreed additional testing capacity at Mass Testing Centres (Drive Thrus) which will be supported by Public Health Wales laboratories.  We already have this additional capacity at Rodney Parade in Newport and this hybrid approach will be introduced to all Mass Testing Centres over the next two weeks, concentrating first on areas of high transmission.

Further to this five Mobile Testing Units currently aligned to the Lighthouse Labs will switch over to utilise Public Health Wales Labs. Two of these are being deployed in the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board area and the remaining three will be used to support testing in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board area. 

We continue to deploy 3 Mobile Testing Units operated by WAST to support incidents and outbreaks.

These measure will give us additional testing capacity over and above that accessed through Lighthouse Labs while we wait to see the improvements in the Lighthouse Lab system come through.

I want to be clear that Welsh Government is working with the NHS and Public Health Wales and other key stakeholders to make sure that testing is available where most needed in particular in dealing with clinical need, responding to outbreaks and incidents, protecting our most vulnerable in care homes and ensuring our critical public services can be maintained.