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NUH Lab leads the way on UK COVID-19 diagnostic testing

Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) is one of only three NHS Trusts in the country currently conducting diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

To date, the Microbiology laboratory at NUH has processed 42,000 samples for patients and staff members suspected of having COVID-19 infection.

The first COVID-19 accreditations for laboratories were awarded in June 2020 by the  United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). 

Because COVID-19 is a relatively new virus, new testing methods have had to be introduced at an unprecedented speed. When a laboratory wants to introduce a new test, a rigorous assessment is required to ensure that they meet the necessary quality standards.

By obtaining UKAS accreditation the NUH Microbiology Service has proven that they can deliver a high standard of quality, which ensures they consistently generate results which can be relied upon.

The test in question involves a nose and throat swab being taken from a person suspected of having COVID. This sample is then sent to the microbiology laboratory. At the lab, the first step is to extract all of the nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) within the sample. Then, technicians search for the SARS-CoV-2 virus within the sample. If it's present, this indicates a positive sample.

The Microbiology team have offered this service within the NUH Trust since 12 March and have maintained an average turnaround time - from receiving samples to producing a result - of around 12 hours. This incredibly quick service has helped inform the most appropriate management of patients and the timely introduction of infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus.

During the peak of the virus nationally, the NUH Microbiology Service was not only testing patients from within Nottingham but was also providing testing for other laboratories within the Midlands and East 2 Pathology Network, testing up to 750 samples per day.

Rebecca Walker, Microbiology Service Manager, said: “This accreditation is a massive achievement for the Microbiology Department at NUH and provides reassurance the service is at the highest standard in terms of quality. The Microbiology team have worked really hard to set up and maintain this new service, under very challenging circumstances.

"It has been a real team effort with staff being provided from other areas within Pathology Services at the trust - incluidng Clinical Pathology and Cellular Pathology - to support this crucial testing service. I am immensely proud of what the Microbiology Team has achieved over the last few months. All of the staff work so hard to support the department and are truly dedicated to providing the highest quality service possible for our patients.

"Despite what has already been achieved, the department is continuing to look at how the service can be developed in order to respond to the changing needs of our patients and service users.”

The other NHS labs to receive accreditation as of July are at St Helen’s and Knowsley NHS Trust and Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.

The UK Government, Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and NHS England and NHS Improvement have focussed on using UKAS accredited laboratories to deliver the increase in testing that has been required to date. 

Announcing the first accreditations, Lorraine Turner Technical and Development Director at UKAS said: “Reliable testing is the cornerstone of the government’s pandemic strategy and UKAS has been working with all the relevant parties to achieve this.  Ensuring there is nationwide confidence that a reliable testing regime exists is key to managing the disease and the potential easing of restrictions. UKAS accreditation means that government, organisations and individuals who rely on testing can be confident in a quality outcome”.


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