Virology team scoop national award for innovative Covid-19 testing protocol

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Virology team scoop national award for innovative Covid-19 testing protocol
19 November 2020

A scientific innovation by a group of 25 specialist staff has led to a prestigious national award for the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group.

The virology team at The Royal Oldham Hospital have been named as the winners of The Royal College of Pathologists’ RCPath Achievement Award – Innovation in Pathology Practice for 2020.  The award celebrates excellence in pathology practice and promotes high standards in pathology education, training and research to deliver the best patient care.

The team were nominated for the work they carried out during March and April 2020 when there was a national shortage of PCR extraction kits (a PCR test looks for evidence that the coronavirus is currently in your body).  This potentially meant that testing for symptomatic patients and healthcare workers would have to stop and so the virology team decided to scope alternative testing strategies and trialled a new extraction free covid-19 PCR test. The new procedure had the added benefit that it reduced the processing time of the test down from 4.5 hours to two hours.  To date there have been 158,000 covid-19 PCR tests processed at the Northern Care Alliance, with more than 150,000 processed at The Royal Oldham Hospital.

Paul Chadwick, consultant microbiologist and clinical director of infection sciences, explains: “Our innovation was a calculated risk since we were going against standard protocols, but a scientifically sound and robust verification and close follow-up of the results led to a safe and efficient means of covid-19 testing for our patients. The team at Oldham were the first in the country to conduct this rapid verification and deploy the routine use of the new test and their findings were submitted to the Department of Health & Social Care for identifying the novel solution to coronavirus testing.  This has meant that our test was quickly adapted with slight modifications by many diagnostic laboratories across the country and became their standard of care covid-19 testing strategy.”

The team received their award at a virtual ceremony on 19 November.

Dr Joel Paul, clinical lead for virology, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest global public health challenge of our lifetime.  At the beginning of this pandemic, the WHO Director General sent out a simple but important message to all countries - ‘Test, Test, Test’. This was the foundation of our national response to ‘Test, Trace and Isolate’ people infected with this virus.

“Our NCA pathology group responded rapidly to the challenge and the virology team was tasked to set up our SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing laboratory. We have continuously increased our testing capacity and achieved the current capacity of conducting 1,000 SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests every day, which is the second largest testing laboratory in Greater Manchester.

“The hard work needed for setting this up and running it daily has been driven by each and every member of the microbiology team based at The Royal Oldham Hospital and Salford Royal. I feel very proud to be the clinical lead of virology to a motivated and dedicated team based in the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, which is known to be an exemplar NHS organisation in UK.”

NCA chief executive Raj Jain, said: “It is really heartening to see that our teams continue to develop and deliver excellence, despite the huge demands that are being placed on their shoulders.  I would like to thank and congratulate each and every member of the virology team for what they have achieved and that has been nationally recognised by this award.”

Pictured celebrating their award are, back row, left to right: Ravind Bhangal, molecular biomedical scientist (microbiology); Janet Roche, lead virology biomedical scientist (microbiology); Dr Joel Paul, clinical lead of virology; Fiona Shufflebottom, molecular biomedical scientist (microbiology).  Front row, left to right: Paul Loy, technical manager, department of microbiology; Dr Paul Chadwick, clinical director of infection sciences (microbiology & virology); Diane Dean, service manager, department of microbiology, and Cheryl Williams, lead molecular biomedical scientist (microbiology).