The UK and other countries are entering a phase where testing capacity is a limiting factor in the national path to achieving a successful resolution of this pandemic. There is no way to increase the world supply of equipment dramatically. Hence, a vital resource for each country is the inventory of the machines already in place in its laboratories.
The Government is rapidly expanding the official COVID-19 testing programme across three main locations, and the necessary equipment is being requested. The Government is already engaged in seeking volunteers for the National Test Centres (NTC's). Our project aims to supplement that effort with the 'long-tail' of smaller laboratories where machines and personnel remain in situ. The COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network goal is to recruit 100 - 200 volunteer laboratories across the UK to each conduct on average, 100 tests a day for frontline healthcare staff and GPs.
Our network will support these volunteer, smaller laboratories to join the effort by helping them to set up the logistics, frameworks and processes required.
Mike Fischer CBE
The project was started by Mike Fischer CBE who directs SBL, an independent non-profit medical research laboratory in Oxfordshire. Following suggestions from his team in early March, Mike has had this lab converted to testing for COVID-19, and the lab is now providing 250-500 tests a week to local NHS health care workers with a half-day turnaround. This is already making a substantial difference to 18 GP practices in the local area. These tests are giving c.200 frontline staff an indication of their current health status and the knowledge required to keep fulfilling these vital roles, and a degree of comfort that they are not avoidably infecting patients.
After seeing the impact that testing at SBL is having on the local area, we want to encourage other labs to follow our example, and create the C19 distributed testing Network, with the hope that we can expand these services and help fight this battle against COVID-19 across the UK. The Fischer Family Trust has committed £1M of seed funding to get the project going.
Professor Julian Peto
The project is supported by Professor Julian Peto, statistician and epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Professor Peto advocates mass testing as a means to rapidly end the Covid-19 epidemic as he sets out in his letter to the British Medical Journal.
In support of the project, Peto said "When the Dunkirk evacuation began no-one knew how many people could be rescued. We don't know how many infections and deaths we can prevent, but we know it's a lot. Everything from open fishing boats to destroyers carried back as many men as they could. The little boats carried more than the destroyers, just as the little labs will do most of the testing.
A small laboratory with one PCR machine can do 700 tests in a 24 hour day which would make a vital difference to capacity. They will be justly proud and justly honoured, like the NHS frontline staff. I hope that thousands of those laboratories with the right facilities and staff will join this network."
The project was co-founded by Caroline Plumb, a UK entrepreneur who is CEO and Founder of Fluidly, a Fintech. Caroline is supporting to co-ordinate the COVID-19 Volunteering Testing Network alongside Tim on a voluntary basis.
She previously co-founded Freshminds where a number of other volunteers are drawn from. In 2010 Caroline was appointed one of the UK's Business Ambassadors by then Prime Minister David Cameron. She received an OBE in 2016 for services to business and charity.
Find Caroline on LinkedIn here.
The project was co-founded by Tim Perkin, who successfully founded a software company seeking to enable students and employers to connect for work experience and job opportunities. Tim has worked with a variety of organisations from Lloyds Banking Group to small education software start-ups.
With an entrepreneurial mindset, Tim has been running the COVID-19 Volunteering Testing Network alongside Caroline on a voluntary basis. Tim is leading on onboarding laboratories and helping source vital consumables to ensure that laboratories in our network are supported in their testing efforts.
Find Tim on LinkedIn here.
Dr Tony Cooke
Dr Tony Cooke supports the project. Tony is CEO and one of the founding members of what is now Cambridge Clinical Laboratories, a laboratory seeking to be an early adopter of new diagnostic technologies. With extensive experience in the diagnostics industry in several fields ranging from operations to regulatory affairs. As CEO of Cambridge Clinical Laboratories, Tony is seeking to develop relationships with diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies further, driving diagnostic innovation in the industry.
Tony is helping guide the COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network in the processes required to carry out testing, offering advice on operational processes and supporting labs with his extensive expertise in this area.
Find Tony on LinkedIn here.
Professor Andrew Beggs
Professor Andrew Beggs is supporting the Project. Professor Beggs is a Professor of Cancer Genetics and Surgery at the University of Birmingham. He has recently been awarded an Alan Turing Fellowship at the Alan Turing Institute and holds a Cancer Research UK & Royal College of Surgeons Advanced Clinician Scientist award. Andrew also still practices clinically, serving as a Consultant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
Andrew and his team at the University of Birmingham have already converted their laboratory so that they can carry out COVID-19 diagnostic tests with the aim of running up to 10,000 tests a day. This fantastic effort will help support frontline healthcare workers across Birmingham and the wider area, ensuring that they can continue to carry out their essential work. Andrew is supporting the COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network with his expertise, knowledge and by providing advice on how university laboratories can help as members of the COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network.
Find Andrew on LinkedIn here.
Phillip Unwin, Senior Partner, Hart Surgery, Henley.
"Having a test is crucial in helping to stem the spread of this disease and help us at practices to keep fighting."