The huge problem with drive-through testing in Wales
Nearly three-quarters of tests from drive-through testing centres in Wales are taking longer than 24 hours to be returned, it has been revealed.
The Welsh Government publishes weekly figures on the amount of tests carried out at these 11 regional centres which are predominantly used by members of the public.
They are based in Cardiff, Abercynon, Newport, Carmarthen, Swansea, Cwm near Ebbw Vale, Llandudno, Deeside, Margam, Builth Wells and Newtown.
For the week beginning July 20, just 26.8% of 5,252 antigen tests were returned within a day at drive-through centres - the worst performance since the pandemic began.
This was significantly worse than the previous week, beginning July 13, when 40.9% of 6,451 tests came back within 24 hours.
During the height of the coronavirus outbreak in April and May, more than half of tests at drive-through centres were frequently returned within a day. But it must be noted that the number of weekly tests conducted was much lower than current levels.
Percentage of weekly tests returned within 24 hours
When it came to processing these drive-through tests within 48 hours, for the week beginning July 20 some 86.3% were returned, while 97.9% were back within three days.
The Welsh Government also releases weekly figures on the number of tests processed in hospital settings and community testing units (CTUs) which are prioritised for healthcare workers.
The performance of CTUs remains relatively poor, with 36.6% of around 7,958 tests processed within a day, 51.3% within two days and 74.6% within three days last week.
But it is a far better picture in hospital settings in Wales where 87.9% of 4,573 tests were processed in a day, 96.7% in two days and 97.9% within three last week.(Image: Matthew Horwood)
In its recently-published testing strategy, the Welsh Government called for improvements in turnaround times for tests at all settings.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has also called for the whole testing system to be simplified and accellerated so cases in communities can be identified as quickly as possible.
Last week it was announced that Imperial Park in Newport will house Wales' first lighthouse lab. You can find out more about these labs via this link.
Currently the Welsh Government has capacity to test more than 15,000 people each day, but according to latest figures just a third of them are being used.
In response, a Welsh Government spokesman said: "We have the testing capacity and infrastructure in place to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get a test and that we can meet any surges in cases through Welsh labs and through the UK Lighthouse Laboratory network.
"The fact that the number of tests carried out are lower than our testing capacity reflects the current prevalence rates in Wales.
"As set out in our recently published strategy, testing turnaround times is a key focus and we have been putting in place measures to improve our turnaround times in the labs and throughout the end to end process."
- What is a lighthouse lab and why does Wales need one?
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Plaid Cymru Member of Senedd Delyth Jewell said: " I am extremely concerned to hear that three quarters of test results from regional testing centres take longer than 24 hours to be returned.
"A well-functioning test and trace system acts as an early warning for new outbreaks. If tests take longer than 24 hours to be returned, it severely limits our ability to stamp out new outbreaks quickly.
"If Wales is faced with a second wave, without a robust first line of defence, the Welsh Government will find themselves left with only one option – a return to lockdown conditions.
"Local authorities and health boards need to be supported in the vital work that they’re doing through the test, trace and protect system, and that means ensuring that tests are returned quickly."(Image: WalesOnline)
"For the third consecutive week now lab capacity has been stuck at 15,157 and even more disappointingly only 5,009 tests - less than half of capacity - were carried out in the last 24 hours.
"Labour's health minister is running out of excuses and it's high time he brought someone in who can get on top of the situation as he's clearly not up to the task."