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‘Reliable’ GP saliva testing pilot may be rolled out as Government ramps up tests

A pilot testing the reliability of a new low-cost saliva Covid test, involving large numbers of GPs and their families, has proved successful, researchers have told Pulse.

The study by the University of Southampton involved delivering tests to the homes or places of work of GP staff, other essential key workers, university employees and members of their households, who completed tests by putting their saliva in a pot.

The research was completed on 31 July, with more than 16,850 individual tests for Covid-19 carried out over four weeks.

The researchers told Pulse that it demonstrated the potential of saliva testing as a ‘reliable’ and ‘convenient large-scale approach’, adding that it returned results ‘within hours’ of the test taking place.

The team behind the programme are now working with the Department of Health and Social Care on ‘ways of taking this forward.

A university spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Demonstrating for the first time the potential of saliva testing  as a reliable, convenient large-scale approach, it also provided further evidence for the accuracy of the rapid, lower cost RT-LAMP lab test in detecting coronavirus.’

The DHSC announced last week that it would invest a further £500m into Covid testing, including expanding the Southampton pilot to ‘educational settings’ and launching a new pilot in Salford, which will trial repeat population testing using saliva.

The announcement said: ‘The [Southampton] pilot showed the at-home saliva sampling kit to be a reliable means of testing for large-scale, regular testing.’

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that these pilots form the first stages of a plan to use mass testing to open up society in the absence of a vaccine or Covid-19 cure.

He said this was ‘an ambitious agenda’, adding: ‘But we are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month, with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues. And then we hope to go nationwide.’

In the press conference, Mr Johnson said: ‘Over the summer we have been working up an alternative plan that could allow life to return closer to normality. And that plan is based on mass testing.’

He added: ‘And we think, we hope, we believe that new types of tests, which are simple, quick and scalable, will become available. They use swabs or saliva and can turn around results in 90 or even 20 minutes.

‘Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved – literally millions of tests processed every single day.

‘That level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing’.

He added that there were ‘a number of challenges’ with the plans.

He said: ‘We need the technology to work. We need to source the necessary materials to manufacture so many tests. We need to put in place an efficient distribution network. And we need to work through the numerous logistical challenges.’

‘We are hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and, if everything comes together, it may be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas.

‘But as I have said before, all this progress is contingent on continued scientific advances and though we’re hopeful, I cannot 100% guarantee that those advances will be made.’