Frontline Norfolk hospital staff are among the first in the country to benefit from the rollout of simpler and more accurate saliva Covid tests.
Combined with the vaccination programme, the rapid tests being introduced at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) should help to significantly reduce the ability of the virus to spread in healthcare settings.
NHS staff have been using lateral flow tests, self-swabbing twice a week to help identify asymptomatic staff.
In contrast, the new LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests need to only be taken once a week, requiring a simple saliva sample rather than a nose swab, and positive results do not require an additional confirmatory PCR test.
The samples are being analysed at the Earlham Institute (EI), a leading genomics research centre based on Norwich Research Park.
A dedicated lab, housing EI and NNUH scientists, are ramping up to process up to 35,000 tests per week – with the results being available on the same day.
The first of these new coronavirus tests have already been offered to NNUH staff and a trust-wide rollout will follow, with the programme continuing across Norfolk and Waveney to gradually replace lateral flow tests.
“This new test is much simpler to take and very effective in detecting active virus – crucially, it doesn’t pick up traces of an old infection,” said Dr Karim Gharbi, head of genomics pipelines and Covid testing lead at EI.
“This gives increased confidence that those staff who do test positive are infectious and should self-isolate immediately to protect others.”
Dr Ngozi Elumogo, consultant microbiologist and lab medicine clinical director heading up the programme across the Norfolk and Waveney Health Partnership, said: “I am very proud to be leading a very dedicated team of NHS Microbiology staff who have worked extremely hard to deliver this new initiative in record time, in spite of the enormous increase in lab workload due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Professor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, said: “Testing remains a fundamental part of the national response to this pandemic.
“We’ve seen positive early signs from the vaccination programme, but we know transmission rates remain very high, with most people having no symptoms.
“Getting the number of cases under control will limit the outbreak of new strains and give vaccines the best chance of success.”