DEDICATED laboratory teams at South Tees Hospitals Trust have been leading the country in developing round the clock on-site testing for Covid-19 to ensure patients can be treated faster.

Teams of clinicians at James Cook University Hospital have been testing more than 300 samples a day as they ramped up facilities in the face of overwhelming need.

Clinicians from the trust’s microbiology team volunteered to change their working hours to quickly set up a service to test patient and staff swabs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the majority of tests through in six hours.

Sandra Gittins, virology lead biomedical scientist, said: "Our 11 specially trained virology staff now work shifts from 6am until midnight. Biomedical scientists and healthcare science support workers then help us out overnight. I did not even have to ask them to work the different shift patterns, they volunteered. It’s been an amazing response."

Therapeutic care volunteers help transport samples from wards to the labs and university students have also been providing support, assisting with specimen preparation prior to the testing process.The teams have come together like one big family. I’m extremely proud of them," added Sandra.

The James Cook University Hospital was the first in the region along with the public health laboratories in Newcastle, to begin providing diagnostic testing for patients suspected of being infected with Covid-19. Within seven days the team had set up a fully operational round the clock testing and reporting service.

Karl Hubbert, operations director, said: "The team regularly test for respiratory diseases and other outbreak scenarios which meant they were fully prepared for Covid-19.

"The laboratory initially started testing approximately 30 samples per day and soon expanded this from 400 samples in the first week to over 1,500 samples in subsequent weeks.

"The laboratory staff have worked continuously to improve turnaround times which have decreased from over 24 hours to less than six hours. This has only been possible due to the dedicated commitment of the biomedical scientists and scientific laboratory support worker staff groups who, like other staff groups across the trust, have gone over and beyond their duties often staying late, working flexibly and undertaking additional shifts to ensure results are always turned around as quickly as possible.

"The ability to test in-house with timely results has meant our patients have been able to begin treatment more quickly; this is also really important for the safety of our nurses, doctors and other frontline staff in helping with infection prevention and control and reducing the spread of this disease."

Spare capacity has been used to support other local hospitals and care homes,with community testing support due soon.