Local hospitals mark two years since completion of first in-house COVID-19 test

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests work by analysing samples taken through the insertion of a long cotton bud into the nose and around the back of the throat of an individual. Trained experts then extract the viral nucleic acid from the specific sample, amplify it, and then finally analyse it, establishing whether or not the someone has COVID 19.

As the pandemic began in March 2020, the Microbiology team, which is housed at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, initially sent tests to their counterparts at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals who kindly undertook limited screening on behalf of the Trust. However, given challenges to capacity at the time, and increasing numbers of patients presenting with symptoms of the novel illness, this only allowed for around 50 swabs to be checked per day, and as cases rose so did the pressure on the testing systems.

In a bid to increase the number of PCR samples that could be analysed for patients at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, Bassetlaw Hospital and Montagu Hospital, Michael Leng, Head Biomedical Scientist in Microbiology at DBTH, began exploring the possibility of setting up an in-house solution rather than sending their tests away. Within a few days, and with the successful procurement of cutting-edge technology, the very first test for coronavirus took place on site on Thursday 9 April 2020.

Since that time, the Microbiology team have tested more than 243,000 samples for COVID-19, with colleagues testing more than 700 samples a day during peaks of activity.

The service continued to innovate throughout the pandemic, with colleagues able to utilise in-house testing for the illness, enabling them to return to work quicker if a negative result was achieved. Additionally, the team began to work with Abbott in January 2021 to install rapid testing stations, creating extra screening capacity with results returning in around 13 minutes.

Dr Ken Agwuh, Director of Infection, Prevention and Control at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals, said: “On behalf of both our colleagues at the Trust, as well as the people of Doncaster and Bassetlaw, I want to thank our Microbiology team, as well as our wider Pathology service, for their hard work throughout the past two years.

“One of the key breakthroughs during the early stages of the pandemic was ensuring we had consistent and accurate detection of the disease, as soon as possible, ensuring we could triage patients appropriately and reducing any possibility of cross-infection amongst our most vulnerable. Our colleagues within Microbiology worked night and day throughout the first half of 2020, ultimately helping us to save lives during a time when we knew so little about this illness.

“While we often think of nurses and doctors when we speak of the NHS, our Microbiology team are wonderful example of those unsung heroes that our health service depends upon to deliver great care. To each and everyone of them, not just locally but also nationally, I wish to express my thanks and appreciation.”

The Trust continues to routinely screen both staff and patients for COVID-19 upon entry to the hospital, with all health professionals asked to undertake twice-weekly lateral flow tests.

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