Mobile coronavirus testing units operated by the Army are to be used across the UK to test frontline workers and the most vulnerable at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons
The new units will work alongside the country’s drive-through test sites, sending patient samples to a network of Lighthouse Labs, in a bid to increase the number of tests done each day.
The number of new mobile units is being increased after a successful pilot last week, where Department of Health and Social Care vehicles were refitted to fully functioning testing sites, following a design developed by the Royal Engineers of the British Army.
There are currently eight existing mobile units. These can be set up in under 20 minutes and are manned by Armed Forces personnel trained to collect swabs which are then are sent to mega-labs for processing. Those tested will receive results within 48 hours.
New units will go into operation in the coming weeks with some 96 ready to be deployed by the start of May – 92 staffed by the Armed Forces and a further 4, in Northern Ireland, operated by civilian contractors.
The sites will travel to frontline workers in places including care homes, police stations, prisons, benefits centres and fire and rescue services.
Earlier this month Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the UK government’s 5-pillar plan to increase coronavirus testing across the UK.
Pillar 1: scale up swab testing in PHE labs and NHS hospitals for those with a medical need and the most critical workers to 25,000 a day in England, with the aligned testing strategies of the NHS in the devolved administrations
Pillar 2: deliver increased commercial swab testing for critical key workers in the NHS across the UK, before then expanding to key workers in other sectors. There are now some 30 drive-through sites collecting samples across the UK
Pillar 3: develop blood testing to help know if people across the UK have the right antibodies and so have high levels of immunity to coronavirus
Pillar 4: conduct UK-wide surveillance testing to learn more about the spread of the disease and help develop new tests and treatments
Pillar 5: create a new national effort for testing, to build a mass-testing capacity for the UK.
However, some key workers in Kent who are eligible for testing say they have been told to travel to Ipswich, Brighton and Gatwick testing centres – with none on offer in Kent on he government website.
This is despite all hospitals in Kent and Medway having testing centres, according to a statement by Wilf Williams, the Accountable Officer for Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group.
In response to news that a drive-through coronavirus testing facility will open at Ebbsfleet International, he said: “Our hospital trusts across Kent and Medway have worked at an incredible pace over the last few weeks to mobilise testing for staff across health, care and other frontline services.
“This new centre significantly expands our testing capacity in addition to that of the testing centres in all of our hospitals in Kent and Medway, and will help get key health and care workers who are self-isolating back to work as quickly as possible.
“Our planned ‘whole system’ response, utilising this important new facility, will help keep our essential services staffed and support our communities as we progress through the Coronavirus epidemic.”
The Ebbsfleet site will operate on an appointment-only basis for NHS staff and other key workers. The facility will be piloted for its first few days of operation.
A centre at Estuary View in Whitstable carries out assessments but does not do testing. It is a drive through ‘hot site’ facility to assess and treat probable Covid 19 patients face to face.