Government supports small labs to help ramp up COVID-19 testing for frontline health and care workers

Fri, 15/05/2020 - 14:44

●      The Department of Health and Social Care will fund tens of thousands of tests in a multi-million pound contract agreed with the COVID-19 Testing Network

●      Labs are already saving lives: one identified an outbreak amongst asymptomatic workers in a community care provider

●      Regular, localised screening of healthcare workers who might otherwise be unknowingly spreading the virus is vitally important

●      Local labs are delivering tests with same-day results for nearby GPs and care workers

●      Many more labs will be able to join the 6 already live, with 20 more already in the pipeline

Oxford, UK, 15th May 2020 / Sciad NewswireThe Department of Health and Social Care has agreed a multi-million pound contract with the Covid-19 Testing Network to fund tens of thousands of Covid-19 antigen tests for health and care workers across the country. The government’s support will make it easier for small labs to convert to Covid-19 testing, allowing capacity to rapidly increase.

The Covid-19 Testing Network has quickly expanded testing capacity across the UK. The project helps small laboratories run critical antigen testing and identify Covid-19 cases among healthcare workers. It is a distributed network of smaller local labs, working parallel to the government’s centralised testing program.

The network now has 6 labs live testing hundreds of healthcare workers each day across 50 GP surgeries. Over 20 more labs are currently in the pipeline and expected to go live in May and June. The government’s funding will substantially increase the number of labs for which it is viable to convert to Covid-19 testing, by helping to fund purchases of necessary equipment and consumables.

Network labs are testing health workers locally, so most are able to deliver same-day results. Labs deliver swab kits to GP surgeries and care homes, then pick them up when they have been completed, reducing the need to drive long distances to a testing centre. This makes it easier for workers to be regularly screened and for asymptomatic cases to be identified quickly. This is vital for slowing the spread of the virus.

Covid-19 Testing Network founder Mike Fischer CBE said, “We believe that it is vital to test even asymptomatic frontline healthcare workers regularly. Even people who do not show symptoms may be carriers of the virus, and transmit the infection to others.”

Mike Fischer’s Systems Biology Laboratory was the inspiration for the wider testing network. The concept arose from the initiative of assistant director of research Nick Parkinson to begin screening staff at a nearby GP surgery in early March.  Under Nick's direction the team at SBL built this up to a service providing continuous testing of all of the front line staff in 18 local GP practices and some staff in local care homes. This provided the original model for replication by the network. Mike donated £1M of seed funding to get the network started.

Why it is vital to test asymptomatic care workers

Davis French & Associates is a private laboratory in the network which has been screening workers in four GP surgeries, a care home, and a community care provider. They are a prime example of the importance of testing asymptomatic healthcare workers.

Davis French conducted tests on the staff of a care provider which had a number of elderly customers who had been taken critically ill and subsequently hospitalised with Covid-19. The provider was concerned that their carers had been exposed to the disease, and possibly transmitted the disease as they visited different homes to provide care.

Greg French, Managing Director of Davis French & Associates, said: “We tested 20 of their carers, finding eight positives. None of them had been showing symptoms when they were tested, but had still been at risk of shedding the virus. Our testing helped to make sure that the disease was discovered and they could isolate. This helps to keep them away from other staff and those in need of care, keeping them safe and slowing the spread of the virus.”

Healthcare workers are pressed for time and those without symptoms may not self-refer to testing centres. “We need to organise bringing tests to people rather than bringing people to the tests. It needs to be a systematic and frequent effort” said Greg French.

He continued: “The Covid-19 Testing Network has been hugely supportive of our efforts. The funding that they have given us has been critical to us being able to keep testing. There is also great moral support. It is inspiring and reassuring to know that there are other people out there who want to do the same testing as we are doing. In the future, the network will be able to help us with resourcing, providing vital consumables like reagents. This will be very beneficial to us.”


Notes to Editors

About the Covid-19 Testing Network:
The Covid-19 Testing Network is an initiative by the Fischer Family Trust registered charity no. 1075453, set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is supporting a network of life sciences labs who already have the machinery, facilities and personnel in situ to perform Covid-19 testing for their local communities.

The project was conceived by Mike Fischer CBE, entrepreneur and philanthropist and is backed by the Fischer Family Trust. The project co-founders - entrepreneurs Caroline Plumb OBE & Tim Perkin, are co-ordinating efforts to set up and run the network.  

All those involved in the network coordination are volunteers. Mike has contributed up to £1M towards the cost of consumables for labs.

For more information, please contact:

Media Enquiries:

Lulu Carter
07940 796 368

Caroline Plumb

James Raftery