Trailblazing Covid testing service celebrates first anniversary

A trailblazing service forged during the height of the Covid pandemic celebrates its first anniversary this week while settling into its new purpose built home. The point of care testing (POCT) centre within the Royal Berkshire Foundation Trust’s Emergency Department (ED) was the first of its kind in the country, and was rapidly created to quickly test the huge numbers of patients being admitted into the hospital during the first wave of the pandemic. To date the Reading hospital’s POCT centre has carried out nearly 36,000 rapid Covid-19 tests which it’s refined from 2 hours to the current time of 20 minutes.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the POCT centre introduced rapid and reliable Covid testing for every Emergency Department patient being admitted to the hospital. “When we decided to set up this testing facility, we had only ever used this standalone testing model to test for winter flu,” said Katy Heaney, POCT Speciality Lead, Berkshire and Surrey Pathology Services. “Almost overnight we were having to come up with new processes and ways of working, often while learning to use brand new diagnostic materials and equipment”.

Katy continued “To carry out this innovative service, we had to rapidly recruit a new team of staff, many of whom were new to the NHS, at the same time as rapidly scaling up our testing capacity. Due to the restricted availability of the technology when we started, we could only offer 45 rapid patient tests a day. Over time and with the investment in equipment, we’ve increased from eight diagnostic machines to 14, meaning we can offer 180 patient tests a day now that each test has reduced from 2 hours to just 20 minutes.

"We were the first facility in the country to carry out high numbers of Covid testing this way, and once we proved it could be done, we were then challenged with recreating this POCT centre in four other hospitals in the Berkshire/Surrey area – within one month.”

One year on from testing their first patients, the Royal Berkshire Foundation Trust’s POCT centre is housed in a spacious new addition to the ED which has been specially designed for the  POCT facility. “When we first set up the testing service we were squeezed into a converted space, then we spread across two rooms isolated from each other, which made our working practices very difficult. This brand new facility is a fantastic investment in the Royal Berkshire Hospital and will provide a speedier and safer service for local people”.

The new addition has been designed to be future proofed. As and when new point of care technology is developed to detect new and unknown viruses of the future, this facility will be able to cope with high levels of testing. There is enough space for staff and patients to maintain social distancing, and the facility will ease pressure on the ED teams dealing with more urgent and complex cases.

Steve McManus, Chief Executive of the Trust, said: “This is a major milestone in our work to enhance facilities at the hospital for both patients and staff. We’ve started on a huge redevelopment programme which will bring much needed improvements across a range of areas and provide our community with efficient and modern healthcare facilities. The new POCT centre is part of the £4.5million revamp of our emergency department and will complement the other major improvements we’re planning.”

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