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Drive-through coronavirus test centre for NHS workers to open in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 12:57 09 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:38 09 April 2020

Medical staff demonstrate how they take samples at a drive-through testing location for Covid-19 elsewhere in the country. Picture: Justin Kernoghan/PA Wire

Medical staff demonstrate how they take samples at a drive-through testing location for Covid-19 elsewhere in the country. Picture: Justin Kernoghan/PA Wire

Testing of frontline NHS staff is set to be ramped up with the opening of a drive-through coronavirus test centre with the help of scientists at Norwich Research Park.

Volunteers from all research organisations based at the park are working together with staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) as part of the vital testing process of NHS workers.

A dedicated drive-through facility, where swab samples can be safely collected before being sent to the labs for testing, is currently being constructed in part of a car park at the site off Colney Lane.

The additional resource could see testing capacity increase more than seven-fold in the long-term, while still delivering results within 24 hours, the park says.

Drive-through coronavirus test centre that will be used to test NHS staff under construction at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Simon ParkinDrive-through coronavirus test centre that will be used to test NHS staff under construction at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Simon Parkin

Frontline NHS staff in key roles, such as critical care workers, paramedics, emergency department staff and primary care staff, will be eligible if they or a household contact develop symptoms of Covid-19.

MORE: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital opens second emergency department



The goal is that by substantially reducing the seven or 14-day self-isolation period, NHS staff will be able to return to work more quickly.

Sam Higginson, chief executive at the NNUH, said: “Quick and reliable testing is an essential part of the national effort to protect the NHS and save lives. We are starting to test key clinical staff for Covid-19 in line with national guidelines. The expectation is that staff in key clinical roles will be tested to support our staffing through the pandemic.”

A test for those suspected to be suffering from Covid-19 involves a deep swab of the nose or the back of the throat. It involves collecting viral RNA - the material found in a virus that contains the instructions for how to make copies of itself - and then amplifying the sample to create enough material for reliable testing.

Many of the scientists based at Norwich Research Park already have relevant expertise in the molecular techniques necessary for Covid-19 testing, allowing them to quickly get to work with minimal training.

Sam Higginson, chief executive at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: NNUHSam Higginson, chief executive at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: NNUH

Establishments taking part include the Earlham Institute, John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Quadram Institute Bioscience, the UEA, Eastern Pathology Alliance and the Cotman Centre.

MORE: GP surgeries to become designated coronavirus hubs among new measures



Professor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, said: “We’re fortunate to have world-leading scientists who can apply their skills to a range of problems. There couldn’t be a more immediate need than tackling this virus.

Drive-through coronavirus test centre that will be used to test NHS staff under construction at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Simon ParkinDrive-through coronavirus test centre that will be used to test NHS staff under construction at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Simon Parkin

“Our volunteers will help more front-line NHS staff to safely return to what they do best - treating patients and saving lives.”

Ahead of the drive-through centre opening a small number of appointments will initially be offered across the Norfolk and Waveney health system, with the capacity increasing as the volunteers from Norwich Research Park boost the ability of the NHS to test staff. In the meantime, members of the public should continue to follow the advice available from the NHS 111 website.

Will testing be rolled out to the general population?

Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said the strategy is to increase testing not just on health workers, but “in the population” too.

Some experts think mass testing of the community must be a priority in order to ease the lockdown restrictions.

Professor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, one of the establishments at Norwich Research Park that are to help carry out coronvirus testing. Picture: Earlham InstituteProfessor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, one of the establishments at Norwich Research Park that are to help carry out coronvirus testing. Picture: Earlham Institute

Anthony Costello, professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London, said mass testing would give the country a “control mechanism” to lift the lockdown without having to wait until effective drugs or a vaccine has been found.

What does a test involve?

A swab is used to test for Covid-19. Picture: PA ImagesA swab is used to test for Covid-19. Picture: PA Images

A test for those suspected to be suffering from Covid-19 involves a deep swab of the nose or the back of the throat. These are sent off to a lab to be analysed for the genetic sequence particular to the coronavirus.

But a blood test can be used for patients believed to have had the condition and since recovered.

The finger-prick test identifies the antibodies produced inside you to fight off an infection, indicating that the patient may have near-immunity from the disease for at least 28 days.

Frontline NHS staff and care workers will be among those to use a drive through testing location for Covid-19. Picture: Justin Kernoghan/PA WireFrontline NHS staff and care workers will be among those to use a drive through testing location for Covid-19. Picture: Justin Kernoghan/PA Wire

Where can I get a test?

The majority of tests so far have been carried out in hospitals or in people’s homes, with a small amount of random sampling via GP surgeries. But some unusual locations have been set up as mass testing sites. Ikea has set up a drive-through testing centre for frontline NHS staff at its store in Wembley. Tests have also been carried out in the car park of theme park Chessington World of Adventures and Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham.

What is the testing target?

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the government is aiming to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day in England by the end of April.

Prof Doyle said: “NHS chief executives are identifying that priority and the intention here is to get from thousands to hundreds of thousands within the coming weeks.”

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