Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services
The Welsh Government is leading a consortium of stakeholders within Wales to deliver our national plan for COVID-19 testing.
Today we are taking the opportunity to share details of our plan (published online at https://gov.wales/welsh-national-covid-19-test-approach-april-2020), which has been in place since 28 March. This plan is complementary and interoperable with the UK strategy for COVID-19 testing that was announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care last week. We are working alongside our colleagues across the four nations to ensure a consistent response and that all opportunities are brought to bear to scale up our testing capabilities.
This work is happening at pace and has been for a number of weeks. We have been testing symptomatic individuals returning from travels since 29 January and we have been testing frontline NHS staff for COVID-19 since 7 March.
This is a one in a hundred years communicable disease event. The challenge for our system in unprecedented. At an operational level, ensuring that we have scale-up and response that is both safe and effective is of paramount importance. It is not simply a case that new clinical services such as testing can be switched on overnight.
We need to be clear on what we are trying to achieve and our primary objective is to reduce both direct and indirect harm from COVID-19 with a clear focus on protecting the public, optimising the outcomes for our patients and keeping essential services running in Wales. Our testing plan is a key part of our response. An effective approach is not simply about scale, but a choreographed plan that is led by evidence and prioritised by need and impact.
Testing serves different purposes: to identify those who have been exposed and infected by the virus, and those that have mounted an immune response. Understanding the latter will take time, but will no doubt play an important role in how we return to a new normal.
The COVID-19 epidemic has brought out the best in people, professionals, organisations and our communities. We have seen this in the incredible offers of support that we receive on a daily basis from industry, universities and individuals. We are doing our best to work through these kind offers in order to understand where we can deploy them in a controlled way such that they have maximum impact in our response.
In Wales, we are fortunate to have significant assets that we have deployed to undertake and execute our testing plan. These include: Public Health Wales which has a national role in responding to communicable disease outbreaks and is scaling Health Protection Services to meet the challenge; the Life Sciences Hub, which is leading industry engagement; Health Technology Wales which is rapidly reviewing new devices and technologies; Shared Services Partnerships, which is triaging lists of suppliers; NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS), which is ensuring that tests are requested and results are shared in a safe and timely manner; the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank, which is providing an intelligent approach to COVID-19 big data to inform our response; Genomics Partnership Wales, which is bringing genomic sciences into understanding the epidemic; and, the full strength of NHS Wales to deliver the plan.
We are working at a UK level in a number of ways such as, sharing data on validation of new tests, understanding our immune response to coronavirus infection, modelling of demand and understanding the genomic aspect of the virus. Wales is in the top 10 in the world for the amount of viral genetic information that has been made publicly available, enabling work to understand and manage the epidemic here in Wales and beyond.
At an operational level we are working together to scale our operations and the work with Deloitte, Amazon is a key part of this. Further, we are working together through the four nations Chief Medical Officer (CMO) group to ensure that there is a fair and equitable sharing of resources in order to reduce harm from COVID-19.
I will provide further updates on progress on delivering our testing plan and four nations working. You can be assured that we will not rest until our plan is delivered.