New drive-through COVID-19 testing centre at Exeter for NHS staff and patients

A new drive-through COVID-19 testing centre at Exeter Chiefs’ home, Sandy Park, can test up to 12 patients and NHS staff each hour when it is at full capacity.

The service will be run on behalf of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital by charity Devon Freewheelers, who will swab people from the safety of their own cars, then transport samples to the testing laboratory.

Tests will be offered only through referral and by appointment, and the service is not open to the public.

The drive-through testing centre is part of a much wider testing strategy by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E).

The RD&E is at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19, providing some of the most rapid testing for the virus available to hospitals anywhere in the UK.

Thanks to its cutting-edge microbiology facilities and its partnership with the University of Exeter Medical School, the trust has been able to rapidly ramp up its testing abilities.

It is now testing all patients admitted to the hospital – and giving a positive or negative result for COVID-19 in one to two hours.

The trust is also supporting Public Health England (PHE) in COVID-19 testing throughout the South West, and has been commissioned to provide tests for the more than 2000 care home residents in Devon.

The RD&E is one of only four hospitals in the country that can provide the rapid Point-of-Care (POC) tests which are now being done 24-hours a day in a testing lab set up virtually overnight in its Emergency Department.

Stock photo of Sandy Park in Exeter. Image: Google Maps

Stock photo of Sandy Park in Exeter. Image: Google Maps

Prof Adrian Harris, Medical Director at the RD&E, said: “Testing for the virus is at the heart of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“By testing all our in-patients and the residents of care homes we can minimise the risk of transmission, and by testing our staff we can make sure that we can help people return to work as soon as it is safe for them to do so.

“Clinical and non-clinical teams have worked around the clock, tirelessly and selflessly collaborating to provide an absolutely outstanding COVID testing service.

“The staff in the Emergency Department will be staffing it twenty-four-seven to ensure we maximise the testing capacity through the lab at all times.

“Our microbiology team have transformed their normal working patterns, providing a twenty-four-hour service.

“They’ve optimised our existing analysers, introduced new technology, and worked with other scientists from the Genomics team to perform these tests, which are so essential in the fight against this virus.

“But all the science in the world is no use without the samples to actually test, and our portering team has been superb in making sure that the test samples are collected and delivered smoothly from across the hospital.”

He added: “I want to pay tribute to all our staff and our partners at the university, and also Devon Freewheelers who have been helping to carry out the swab testing in the community and hospital.

“I would also like to thank the Exeter Chiefs for their generous help in providing the facilities for the drive-through testing centre.

“It’s been an incredible collective effort, in the most challenging of circumstances.”

Tony Rowe Exeter Rugby Club chief executive, said: “These are extremely challenging times for all of us and together the Chiefs and Sandy Park are proud to play our part in helping to protect frontline NHS staff and to support the Government’s efforts to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

“Being situated so close to the M5 motorway and other links roads into Exeter means the testing site will be easily accessible to those NHS staff from within the city and the wider community.

“The testing site itself is hugely impressive, making use of our main car parks, and is a great triumph of both team work and hard work.”

The trust is also supporting Public Health England (PHE) in COVID-19 testing throughout the South West, and has been commissioned to provide tests for the more than 2000 care home residents in Devon.

The university has provided its genomics lab and two members of staff to help deliver the capacity to provide high throughput testing with 90 tests run every 90 minutes throughout the day, giving a result within six hours.

Sian Ellard, Professor of Genomic Medicine at the University of Exeter, helped source testing equipment from researchers Dr Chris Scotton, at the University of Exeter Medical School, and from Professor Mike Allen, at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Professor Ellard praised the close collaborative links between the trust and the university.

She said: “The strong working relationship between outstanding clinicians and world-leading scientists in Exeter means we’re perfectly placed to lead the way in responding to international challenges of this nature.”

Statistics show 20 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded in East Devon and Exeter

 

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