Three-day waits for coronavirus test results surge in September

Record number of people now wait three DAYS or more for results from in-person coronavirus tests as official data shows a 61% surge in positive cases in a week

  • Three-day waits at regional, local and mobile test centres have surged recently
  • The routes account for about three quarters of tests excluding care homes
  • Data also shows that 31,000 people tested positive in week to September 23 

More people than ever are having to wait three days or more to find out if they have coronavirus after an in-person test in England. 

Official NHS Test & Trace data showed today that members of the public taking swab tests at drive-through test sites or pop-up local and mobile centres face growing waits.

Of the 155,000 people who used local test sites between September 17 and 23, 5.3 per cent of them had to wait more than 72 hours to find out their result. This was up from just 1.8 per cent a week earlier.

The same trend was seen in regional drive-through sites and at mobile testing units, with those three locations now accounting for the majority of public tests. 

Other parts of the system saw improvements during the same time, however, with result return times falling among people getting tested in care homes and at home.

And the proportion of people getting their results within 24 hours after an ‘in-person test’ rose, too, from 28.2 per cent to 38.1 per cent.

Statistics show that the number of people testing positive for the disease hit a new high in the penultimate week of September, with 31,373 confirmed cases up 61 per cent from 19,488 people a week earlier. 

The testing system has come under immense pressure in recent weeks as cases of Covid-19 are surging across the country and soaring numbers of people are demanding swabs.

The Department of Health today confirmed that one in every eight people in England have now had a Covid-19 test – a total of 7.071million people.

Officials blamed some of the pressure on people ordering tests when they weren’t technically eligible, but statistics show that the numbers of people catching the disease every day have more than tripled since the start of September. 

Test and Trace statistics show that 5.3 per cent of people attending regional drive-through test sites (4,845 out of 91,185) waited 72 hours or more for their result after the test. This was up from 1.7 per cent a week earlier.

The three-day limit is the cut-off for when officials stop measuring how long a result has taken – each test is put into a 24 hours; 24-48 hours; or 72+ hours category.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised earlier this year that all tests would have their results returned within 24 hours but the target has slipped out of reach.  

At mobile testing units, which are set up in areas with concerning infection rates, 6.5 per cent of people (7,852 out of 120,064) waited for three days or longer.

However, the proportion of people waiting over three days has shrunk for satellite tests – which are mostly done in care homes – and for home kits. 

For satellite test centres the 72-hour wait fell from 72.2 per cent to 41.6 per cent in the middle of September.

And for home test kits it dropped from 55.2 per cent to 19.8 per cent.

Combined, those two categories made up more than half of swab tests but more than 400,000 were satellite tests that generally aren’t available to the public.    

In more promising news the Test & Trace data showed there has been a rise in the proportion of people who have an ‘in-person’ test getting their result within 24 hours.

Some 38.1 per cent of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending September 23 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called ‘in-person’ test – received their result within this time-frame.

This was up from 28.2 per cent in the previous week and follows weeks of problems with people accessing tests.

The best performance since the programme began was in the week ending July 1, when 94.3 per cent of in-person test results were returned in 24 hours.

But in the most recent week just 2.9 per cent of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 received their result within 24 hours, up slightly from 1.8 per cent in the previous week.

Some 30.4 per cent of people received the result of a home test within 48 hours, up from 11.3 per cent in the previous week. 

Thursday’s data also showed that 71.6 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 were reached through the Test and Trace system.

This is down from 76.3 per cent in the previous week, but above the 69.9% for the week to September 2, which is the lowest weekly figure to date.

For cases handled by local health protection teams, 97.6 per cent of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate, whereas the figure was 64.3 per cent for cases handled either online or by call centres.

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