THE TRUST that runs the Royal Hampshire County Hospital is taking to the road to conduct coronavirus tests in a pilot scheme for the Government.

Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s (HHFT) microbiology team, which previously helped the region’s hospitals become the first in the county to test for Covid-19 and developed a super-fast test that takes less than 20 minutes to get a result, are now leading a new project that takes their ‘lab in a van’ around communities.

The van utilises the super-fast tests, created in collaboration with Optigene, which does not need to be processed in a traditional lab.

This means that the van can go around communities, taking tests and returning results to patients almost immediately.

The trust say that this mobile, rapid test “could lead to significant improvements in the early diagnosis of Covid-19, and means healthcare providers can take quick action to provide the most appropriate care for patients”.

Clinical scientist Stephen Kidd, who has been leading the pilot, said: “This is a really exciting project, looking at how we can most effectively use this innovative technology to have the biggest impact on patients and local communities.

“We have been working really hard and are learning all the time. The pilot has been a success so far, and we are looking forward to reviewing the data with our colleagues to see if and how this could be rolled out further.”

During the two-week period since the lab has been operational, the team has visited eight care homes and tested 255 people.

Then, the trial saw the mobile lab go to a GP surgery’s Covid-19 assessment centre, whilst the near-patient arm of the pilot taking place in the two emergency departments has conducted 1,500 tests on patients.

Alex Whitfield, chief executive of HHFT, said: “Our microbiology department has led the way in Covid-19 testing from the beginning, and we are exceptionally proud of everything they have achieved.

“We are committed to providing the best possible care to our patients and to do everything in our hands to help our local community - this pilot has enabled us to do just that, whilst having the potential to be rolled out across the country.”

Dr Rebecca Houghton, who works as part of the lab in motion team, says that it could be used in other scenarios too.

She said: “This approach has the potential to be used for testing a wide range of infections in multiple different situations including care homes, work places and localised outbreaks. It’s really exciting to see how we could use data from this pilot to make a real difference to the way we diagnose infection and manage outbreaks.”