COVID-19 antibody testing begins in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

Healthcare staff in Cornwall and Devon will be among the first in the peninsula to be tested to see if they have had COVID-19.

The Peninsula Pathology Network, a partnership of the region’s NHS clinical commissioning groups and trusts, is now using NHS laboratories to provide antibody tests, which tell whether someone has had the virus that causes COVID-19 in the past, by analysing a blood sample.

The antibody testing programme will provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the peninsula to help better understand how the disease spreads. It will work alongside the swab testing programme, which confirms whether or not someone currently has the virus.

It is important to note that the science is currently uncertain and a positive test result for antibodies only means than an individual has had COVID-19. There is currently no evidence to show that this offers the person protective immunity and that they would avoid future reinfection. Therefore, all social distancing and infection control measures should be maintained.

Five hospitals* in Devon and Cornwall are now focussing on offering tests to healthcare staff across the two counties in coming weeks. Testing for a limited number of patients has also begun, with more due to be tested as laboratory capacity increases.

Around 1,000 tests are currently being carried out each day by the network, but it is hoped that up to 4,000 will take place every day across the peninsula by the end of June.

As testing rolls out more widely to general population and community in the future, the science around the use of the test will become further developed.

Ann James, chief executive officer of University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and chair of the Peninsula Pathology Network, said: “This is another example of NHS partners across the peninsula working well together and this type of testing will begin to tell us how many people have had the virus in a given area. We know that not everyone who has had the virus was swabbed when they were symptomatic, so this data will be useful in shaping the future management of the pandemic.”

Across the five hospitals, the Peninsula Pathology Network has access to the two main types of antibody test, provided by Roche and Abbott, that have been approved by the Government and validated by Public Health England. Test results show either as positive, showing you have the antibodies and therefore have had the virus, or negative, which shows the opposite.

Allister Grant, medical director at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, added: “There is no evidence yet to suggest that those who have been proven to have had the virus are immune so staff and patients should continue to comply with social distancing measures, government and local guidelines.

“All infection prevention and control measures must continue to be in place irrespective of the presence of antibodies.”

Initially, at each acute hospital in Devon and Cornwall, local arrangements will be in place for staff to give a blood sample, which may involve drop-in sessions or drive-through opportunities.

*The five hospitals on the peninsula are:

  • Royal Cornwall Hospital (Treliske), in Truro run by Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
  • North Devon District Hospital, in Barnstaple, run by Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Exeter run by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust
  • Torbay Hospital, Torquay run by Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust
  • Derriford Hospital, Plymouth run by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust