Frontline staff at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals (NNUH) are among the first in the country to benefit from the rollout of more accurate saliva tests in a bid to curb Covid transmission rates.

Combined with the vaccination programme, these rapid tests should help to significantly reduce the ability of the virus to spread in healthcare settings.

In partnership with the Norfolk and Norwich Pathology Lab, the Earlham Institute (EI) and the Eastern Pathology Alliance, the Government-commissioned programme introduces a new, more reliable COVID testing programme for frontline workers.

NHS staff have been using lateral flow tests, self-swabbing twice a week to help identify asymptomatic staff. In contrast, the new LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests need only be taken once a week, requiring a simple saliva sample rather than a nose swab, and positive results do not require an additional confirmatory PCR test.

The samples are being analyzed at the Earlham Institute (EI), a leading genomics research center based on Norwich Research Park. A dedicated lab, housing EI and NNUH scientists, are ramping up to process up to 35,000 tests per week – with the results being available on the same day.

The first of these new coronavirus tests have already been offered to NNUH staff and a trust-wide rollout will follow, with the programme continuing across Norfolk and Waveney to gradually replace lateral flow tests.

LAMP tests measure genomic RNA, which is no longer detectable once an individual is no longer infectious. “This new test is much simpler to take and very effective in detecting active virus – crucially, it doesn’t pick up traces of an old infection, said Dr Karim Gharbi, Head of Genomics Pipelines and COVID testing lead at EI. “This gives increased confidence that those staff who do test positive are infectious and should self-isolate immediately to protect others.”

Achieved by the fast-acting partnership between the NNUH and the Earlham Institute, LAMP’s technology is a more reliable alternative to lateral flow tests. This new test is less uncomfortable and avoids the delay of the original follow-up PCR. NHS staff should receive their results quickly and help break the chain of transmission.

It’s vitally important that we continue to protect each other, our patients and our families by carrying out these tests, even now vaccinations have been rolled out. This is all part of our fight against this virus.”

Dr Richard Goodwin, Chief of Division, Clinical Support Services and Clinical Lead for Covid Testing and Vaccination

The Pathology Incident Director for NHSE COVID Testing in Norfolk, Dr Ngozi Elumogo, Consultant Microbiologist & Lab Medicine Clinical Director heading up the Programme across the Norfolk and Waveney Health Partnership, said: “This is a very exciting and important innovation in the battle against COVID-19 and I am very proud to be leading a very dedicated team of NHS Microbiology staff who have worked extremely hard to deliver this new initiative in record time, in spite of the enormous increase in lab workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Professor Neil Hall, Director of the Earlham Institute, said: “Testing remains a fundamental part of the national response to this pandemic. We’ve seen positive early signs from the vaccination programme, but we know transmission rates remain very high, with most people having no symptoms. Getting the number of cases under control will limit the outbreak of new strains and give vaccines the best chance of success.

“We’re able to use our unique blend of genomics and microbiology expertise and infrastructure to make a real difference for frontline NHS staff. This is one of the many inspiring collaborations and innovations born out of this pandemic and will help the East of England lead the way in this next phase of COVID testing.”