Tag: NHS

Testing Times: Why There’s a Testing Shortage and How to Fix It

On Tuesday, the BBC Breakfast ran a report on the government’s COVID-19 testing initiatives in the UK. It was pretty damning.

The main take-away from the report was the link between test shortages and staff shortages. This link should be considered from two perspectives. Firstly, test shortages in the NHS have forced Trusts to cut down on staff and volunteers who are not needed. Of course, this decision has only increased the workload for remaining staff – for example, NHS technicians processing the tests have complained about the lack of staff, claiming that it has only aggravated extant problems and contributed to increased waiting times for patients. Relatedly, known problems with the accessibility of drop-in test centres have been deepened by the shortage, with some patients being forced to drive up to 100 miles to find an operative centre. 

Secondly, such failures within the NHS have had rather troubling effects on the general population’s ability to work. Increased waiting times and lack of accessibility, all caused by or intensified by the general lack of tests, have meant that those with symptoms who have been requested by their workplace to get tested will spend longer off work. Paired with the localised lockdowns in various areas of the country, these hiatuses will be hindering what had previously appeared to be a somewhat promising economic recovery. 

In their desperation to return to work, many Britons have turned to the private sector. Nevertheless, the vast majority of these tests remain priced outside the average person’s budget, mostly because of the type of tests available. 

However, rapid testing, which has seen an upsurge in support from the scientific community in recent months, is cheap, and it delivers results in just 15 minutes – a time to which no other type of COVID-19 test even comes close.

For a number of months on this blog, I have been advocating for the NHS to switch to rapid testing. Rapid testing has an advantage over PCR testing in all the areas that the latter is currently failing. Firstly, rapid tests can be mass produced on a superior scale at lower costs. Secondly, the test does not require expert processing, freeing up the overworked laboratory technicians that currently keep the PCR testing programme running. This also means that far more tests can be done by the patients themselves at home, easing the pressure on drop-in centres. 

If these reforms could be implemented, we might see an end to unnecessarily long wait times and a rejuvenated NHS, better equipped to deal with the ongoing pandemic. If we are to continue our steady recovery from lockdown, it seems essential that this is done, and quick. 

If you are in need of a rapid test, take a look at our product range on our website

Rapid Testing and COVID-19: Why Are We Being So Sensitive?

As all of us absorb some of the more troubling aspects of the recent government announcements, we might not be able to avoid a sense of déjà vu. Just like at the end of March, the government is making decisions very quickly that will have a sizable effect the British public. Even more so, the government is pursuing the same line of response that they pursued back in March, leading some to question how far we have really come in our understanding of how to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, however, there have been a number of breakthroughs in the scientific community. These revelations concern the sensitivity of rapid testing, a topic that has been hotly debated in the months since lockdown began. For many, the fact that rapid tests were unable to detect antibodies and viral material below a certain threshold was a fatal flaw, further confirming the predominant use of PCR testing which can detect below this threshold.  

The problem lies in the fact that PCR tests – like those available on the NHS – take at least 48 hours to return a result. Given that the government advises those with symptoms to stay at home, this might mean that the patient misses two days of work at the least, which, as infections rise again, could threaten the financial stability of those already hit hard by the pandemic. Similarly, those interested in travelling might have to postpone or even cancel their plans if they experience symptoms at an inopportune time. Clearly, there is an incentive here for Britons to simply take their chances, to keep functioning in ignorance by not applying for a test or to apply for a test but make no adjustments to their behaviour while they wait for the results. In both cases, the delay inherent in PCR testing poses a problem for mitigating infection rates.

But, since rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, we have no other option but to continue with this line of response, right?

Well, Harvard immunologist Dr. Michael Mina has a strange yet simple answer (which he lays out clearly and concisely in a recent New York Times article): what if rapid tests are just insensitive enough to miss non-contagious or non-immune individuals who nevertheless have some tiny amount of viral material or antibodies? Put another way, what if a positive result from a rapid test gives us all the information that actually we care about: are we infectious/immune or not? 

Dr. Mina would answer in the affirmative. He does not dispute that rapid tests are less sensitive but still holds that they are more useful that PCR tests, since we are not interested in detecting any and all amounts of viral material or antibodies but only those amounts which make a patient contagious or presently immune. So, why are we being so sensitive?  Rapid testing offers the British public the power to make informed decisions at the pace of their lives. PCR testing interrupts their lives to give them information that they don’t need.

If you are interested in purchasing a rapid test, take a look at our online shop and our eBay page.

An Introduction to Viral Testing for Small Businesses

Source: Pixabay

As the pandemic has progressed, there has been growing public interest in the potentials of testing. With reliable means of detecting whether someone has or has had the virus, we might better adjust not only public policy but our own lives, which have been so abruptly interrupted. There has been endless discussion about the possibilities of immunity for those who have contracted the virus and survived. There have also been doubts about the reliability of rapid testing, which remains the most convenient form of testing for the general public – and for business owners. 

Indeed, for many small businesses, the answers to these questions will be pivotal. However, answering these questions requires at least a minimal knowledge of viral testing and there has been a pitiful lack of accessible information. As part of our campaign to empower small businesses during the pandemic, we thought it might be useful to produce this short and simple introduction to viral testing.

Let’s start with the absolute basics. A virus is parasitic, meaning it cannot survive without a host. Its host is a cell. A virus is chiefly composed of two elements: a nucleic acid molecule and a protein shell. ‘Nucleic acid’ might sound familiar to you, a distant memory from a school classroom where you were given a lecture on DNA – the ‘secret ingredient of life’. It is this element of a virus that is responsible for the replication which can make them so dangerous. 

In order for a virus to replicate, though, it must attach itself to a cell – its host. This is where the protein shell comes in. Think about all of those images of the COVID-19 virus that you will have seen on the news or in articles or on the government’s public safety posters that are now dotted all over the place. The virus has a bunch of ‘spikes’ sticking out of it, right? Well, these are part of the protein shell and they’re the virus’ way of gaining access to a cell. 

They are also what attracts the attention of the body’s immune system. When the body produces antibodies against a virus, it is these protein ‘spikes’ which they are designed to hunt out. This brings us to the first of the two major forms of COVID-19 tests: the antibody test. In an antibody test – like our rapid antibody test -, the filter paper onto which the blood-sample is placed already contains proteins extracted from the COVID-19 virus. If you have the relevant antibodies in your blood, they will react with the proteins on the paper, producing the marks that can be seen on this test from one of our customers:   

Antibody tests have come under fire in the past few months for a number of reasons. (We have a whole blog on the topic, if you’re interested.) But the main concerns revolved around the sensitivity of the tests. Firstly, it takes a while for detectable levels of antibodies to be produced, meaning that antibody tests do not give us a totally comprehensive picture of who currently has the virus. Similarly, in the other direction, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the levels of antibodies cease to be detectable and whether this has any bearing on immunity, for example. Take a look at this diagram:

Source: iSTOC

However, the picture used above is of a test taken by one of our customers, whose husband had symptoms over 60 days ago, which means that antibody testing might be reliable far beyond the limit previously assumed.

So, what is different about an antigen test? Instead of testing for antibodies which fight the virus, antigen tests are able to detect the genetic material of the virus, that nucleic acid we discussed earlier. Because this genetic material is present as soon as someone is infected, antigen tests offer a more comprehensive picture of who currently has the virus than do antibody tests. However, antigen tests cannot give us information on who has had the virus in the past, which is the added benefit of antibody tests. Such a hard limit to the testing window is reflected in the NHS’ guidance on getting one of their antigen tests:

Source: NHS

We hope that this information clears up a few misconceptions about testing and gives you the confidence to lead your business through the current challenges. For more information, and to view our range of health and safety products, check out our website

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