More than 20,000 patients and frontline workers have been checked for COVID-19 antibodies in less than six weeks after East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) developed a fast self-service testing system.
The trust, which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals as well as a variety of community health services, set up the new system – which manages test requests using software robots – in a matter of days following a Government directive earlier in the spring.
The system allows people to book a test at a convenient time and date using a secure website, with all of the paperwork – including issuing the results – completed by robotic ‘virtual workers’. Human input is only needed when the blood sample is taken, making the process fast, efficient and accurate.
ESNEFT launched its system on 27 May, as part of a Government plan to help better understand the prevalence of the virus and how it spreads. The antibody test identifies whether someone has had coronavirus in the past and works alongside swab (antigen) testing, which shows if they currently have the illness.
So far, the trust has carried out 20,662 tests on its own staff, along with patients, community service, primary care, ambulance, mental health and social care and military colleagues in east Suffolk and north east Essex. An average of around 690 tests have been taken each day with results returned by email, usually with 24 hours.
Dr Shane Gordon, Director of Strategy, Research and Innovation with ESNEFT, said: “We are very proud of our antibody testing system and the excellent feedback we have received from people using it. People found it very easy to book a test and the whole process is speedy and efficient.
“Our staff worked incredibly hard to set up this fast, secure and effective system within just a matter of days. We’re especially pleased that the process is largely managed by our virtual workers, which frees up admin staff and laboratory colleagues to focus on patient care, and that we’ve been able to support other areas to implement a similar process.
“The results of these tests will help contribute to understanding the prevalence of COVID-19 and the way it spreads within the community. We are pleased to have been able to play such a key role in helping to collect this important information.”
ESNEFT is only able to take blood from patients for tests which have been requested by a healthcare professional, and not from people who have ordered their own testing kit online.