Testing times behind the scenes for lab staff

Tuesday June 23, 2020

Behind the scenes of the pandemic, the pathology team have been testing swabs for Covid-19, looking after vital gas analyser machines on ITU wards, and now, analysing thousands of blood samples for Covid antibodies, as part of the government’s new antibody testing programme.

Specimen reception at Worthing Hospital

The antibody testing programme launched on 1 June and since then, the lab teams at Western Sussex have analysed more than 7,000 samples.

Steve Short, lead biomedical scientist, said: “It’s been a huge collaborative effort to get the trust’s antibody testing up and running. From phlebotomy and pathology to IT and clerical staff, the teamwork has been excellent.”

Dr Kate Shipman, biochemistry consultant, added: “We’ve also worked closely with regional colleagues across Surrey and Sussex.”

Coordination between the three hospital sites has been instrumental to the success of the testing programme. Six times a day, blood samples from Southlands are transported to Worthing, where they are booked in together with the Worthing samples and transported to the team at St Richard’s, where they are all analysed.

Jess Black, pointing to the analyser

“Scientists first spin the samples in a specialist machine to separate blood cells from serum,” explained Steve. “The serum, which contains antibodies, is then analysed for Covid-19 antibodies. The results are released directly into the lab system and sent out to staff.”

Thousands of colleagues have now received their results.

Kate said: “We’re seeing that about 10% of staff have antibodies for Covid-19 detected, which is similar to what other trusts in Brighton, Eastbourne and Oxford have reported.

Some staff have been stunned to find out they have antibodies detected

“Some staff have been stunned to find out they have antibodies detected, while others have been surprised they haven’t! We’re still learning so much about the role of antibodies in Covid-19.”

Challenges have been inevitable with getting such a huge programme up and running at short notice. In the early days, the team had to cope with an overwhelming volume of requests, which caused delays in getting results out to some staff.

“Despite these challenges, Western staff have been spectacular and really pulled together to get this done at very short notice. The testing staff at St Richard’s have been exceptional,” said Steve.

The team have capacity for 1,000 tests per day, and will be looking to roll out antibody testing to the wider Sussex health care community in the near future.

Specimen reception at St Richard’s Hospital
Gareth Stone, Pathology IT

 

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