Department of Health and Social Care
New partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific, Amazon, Boots, Royal Mail and Randox, alongside the Wellcome Trust and top UK universities to boost testing capacity for frontline NHS staff.
Dozens of universities, research institutes and companies across Britain are lending their testing equipment to 3 new hub laboratories which will be set up for the duration of the crisis. No equipment already in use for coronavirus testing or other vital work will be taken.
All current coronavirus testing and research will continue, including at existing local NHS and Public Health England test laboratories, and this new programme will add significant new capacity.
The first samples to be processed in the labs will be taken from frontline health workers. As the labs’ capacity increases, other frontline workers will be tested. The samples will be taken at special sites set up around the country, initially in coronavirus hotspots such as London.
Work is also underway to source more of the kits needed to take samples from people – of which there is a worldwide shortage.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:
We want to save lives, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS.
Healthcare staff are key in our fight against the virus and I want to ensure that any frontline NHS or care worker who has symptoms of coronavirus or who has a family member with symptoms can be tested quickly and reliably.
I pay tribute to the generosity and public spirit of Britain’s universities, research institutes and companies who have lent us their equipment without hesitation.
Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said:
Laboratory-based testing on this scale is a little like building the medical equivalent of a car factory. We are assembling many different parts, some of them quite specialised and hard to find, then getting them to work accurately together in a highly co-ordinated process. There are bound to be teething problems, so we cannot switch on hundreds of thousands of lab tests overnight. But we hope that soon these hub laboratories will be operating round the clock, allowing us to significantly scale up our testing.
This new service, which will be free, will help end the uncertainty of whether NHS staff need to stay at home. Those who test negative for coronavirus will be able to return to work – enhancing the capacity of the NHS and social care to treat patients and care for those in community settings, with plans for a full roll-out for health, social care and other frontline workers.
Amazon and Royal Mail will help with logistics, while Boots has been supporting initial trials by supplying volunteer healthcare clinicians as testers. It will continue this support as the testing rolls out across the UK. Testing will not be done at Boots stores and these tests will not be available over the counter or for purchase online from any retailers.
Rico Back, Royal Mail Group Chief Executive Officer, said: “The Universal Postal Service provides a lifeline for businesses and communities across the UK, and never more so than at this difficult time. We already deliver vital Government mail in relation to coronavirus. We are working closely with pharmacies and NHS trusts across the UK. And we are delivering many prescriptions and hospital appointments. This is of key importance for us. We will safely deliver these vital tests, a key step forward in the nation’s battle against the virus.”