Volunteer testing network launched to combat COVID-19

The COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network has been launched to provide essential additional testing capacity to front-line workers. The project, started by Mike Fischer CBE, helps small laboratories convert to run critical antigen testing and identify COVID-19 cases among local healthcare workers – at no cost to government.

The UK has thousands of small laboratories with the right equipment, personnel and processes to run SARS-CoV-2 testing. Although some of the critical RT-PCR machines in university and healthcare settings have already been requisitioned by central government, thousands of others are currently sitting idle in small facilities up and down the country.

Mike Fischer set up SBL, a non-profit medical research laboratory in Oxfordshire, which is already running 250–500 tests a week for 10 GP surgeries in the local area. “Although our facility is small – with just three full-time staff, two containment hoods and two real-time machines – we were quickly able to convert to coronavirus testing using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols and are now running up to 500 tests a week for the staff at 10 local GP surgeries on a same-day basis,” said Mike Fischer. “If other laboratories could join the effort, we could quickly scale to providing tens of thousands of tests a day in complement to the central programme.”

“If we are going to beat this pandemic, we need to employ every resource we can to make sure that our essential healthcare workers can go to work safely. Even at our small facility, we have been able to run up to 500 tests a week for NHS staff on a same-day basis. By creating an emergency network of volunteer laboratories like ours across the UK, we can quickly and efficiently create the capacity we need to deliver tens of thousands of additional tests every single day. We believe this can play a vital role in supporting the national effort, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

The COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network is being coordinated on an entirely voluntary basis and is looking for further laboratories to join the effort. “We hope existing equipment can be used in situ with qualified staff volunteering to conduct the tests. We are able to provide guidance, protocols, documentation and reporting,” Mike Fischer added.