Volunteer laboratory network launched in UK to expand Covid-19 testing

The UK-based Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network launched April 9 to provide essential additional testing capacity to front-line workers. The project, started by Mike Fischer CBE, helps small laboratories convert to run critical antigen testing and identify Covid-19 cases among local healthcare workers – at no cost to Government.

The UK has thousands of small laboratories with the right equipment, personnel and processes to run Covid-19 testing. Although some of the critical RT-PCR machines in university and healthcare settings have already been requisitioned by central Government, thousands of others are currently sitting idle in small, ‘long-tail’ facilities up and down the United Kingdom.

Fischer set up SBL, a non-profit medical research laboratory in Oxfordshire, which is already running 250-500 tests a week for 10 GP surgeries in the local area.

“Although our facility is small – with just three full-time staff, two containment hoods and two real-time machines – we were quickly able to convert to Covid-19 testing using the Centre for Disease Control protocols and are now running up to 500 tests a week for the staff at 10 local GP surgeries on a same-day basis,” said Fischer.

“If other labs could join the effort we could quickly scale to providing tens of thousands of tests a day in complement to the central program.”

“If we are going to beat this pandemic, we need to employ every resource we can to make sure that our essential health care workers can go to work safely. Even at our small facility, we have been able to run up to 500 tests a week for NHS staff on a same-day basis. By creating an emergency network of volunteer laboratories like ours across the UK, we can quickly and efficiently create the capacity we need to deliver tens of thousands of additional tests every day.”

The Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network is being coordinated on an entirely voluntary basis and is looking for further labs to join the effort. “We hope existing equipment can be used in situ with qualified staff volunteering to conduct the tests. We are able to provide guidance, protocols, documentation and reporting,” Fischer added.

The Fischer Family Trust has also made £1 million in funding available to support the purchase of consumables for the tests if labs are unable to cover these.

For more information about the Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network, visit: www.covid19-testing.org