- All NHS and care staff in England will be offered a test, patients and care residents being eligible at the request of their clinician.
- Accurate and reliable laboratory antibody tests will improve understanding and data on COVID-19
- Decentralized administrations will decide who is eligible for tests in their jurisdictions
Antibody tests will be available to the NHS and caregivers, eligible patients and care residents in England to see if they have had a coronavirus as part of a new national antibody screening program announced by the Secretary of Health and Social Affairs Matt Hancock.
The tests will be prioritized for the NHS and caregivers, and clinicians will be able to request them for patients in hospital and social settings if they deem it appropriate.
New antibody testing program to start next week follows substantial expansion of UK swab testing capacity, which has seen the creation of the country’s largest network of diagnostic laboratories in a record time. Swab tests confirm that a person is currently infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
As part of the new program announced today, very precise laboratory antibody tests will be used to find out if anyone has ever had the virus, to provide accurate data on the antibodies they have developed in response . This information will help clinicians and scientists better understand the prevalence of the virus in different regions of the country.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Affairs Matt Hancock said:
Today, we have signed contracts to provide more than 10 million tests for Roche and Abbott in the coming months. Starting next week, we will start rolling them out gradually. In the beginning, health and care staff, patients and residents.
This is an important milestone that represents further progress in our national testing program. Knowing that you have these antibodies will help us understand in the future if you are less likely to get coronavirus, die from coronavirus, and transmit coronavirus.
History has shown that understanding an enemy is fundamental to defeating them. In this latest battle, it is our ingenuity, our brilliant scientists and our scientific curiosity that will keep us one step ahead of this virus. We all have something to contribute to this fight – one action that each of us can take is to follow the rules of hygiene and social distancing. Not just for you, but for your loved ones and your community. So stay alert, control the virus and save lives.
So far, ten million tests have been secured under a historic agreement with the industry, including Roche Diagnostics and Abbott Laboratories, and they will be rolled out in the coming months, with new agreements in the works. negotiating with suppliers to provide millions of laboratory antibody tests.
A positive antibody test result, regardless of which test is used, does not currently mean that the person being tested is immunized against COVID-19. There is also no solid evidence that the presence of antibodies means that someone cannot be re-infected with the virus or will not pass it on to someone else. If a test is positive, it should always follow social distancing measures and appropriate use of PPE.
As previously announced, a Public Health England (PHE) study called SIREN is already underway to help answer these questions and determine whether the antibodies indicate immunity to COVID-19. A sample of 10,000 healthcare workers is tested to test for potential immunity to the virus.
Professor John Newton, national coordinator of the UK COVID-19 testing program, said:
Our understanding of this virus will only grow as new scientific evidence and studies emerge. This new national testing program is a very important part of this work.
COVID-19 is a new disease, and our understanding of the body’s immune response to the virus that causes it is limited. Progress is being made every day, but we do not yet know how long immunity lasts, or whether having antibodies means that one person cannot spread the virus to others. It is essential that everyone continues to follow social distancing measures, playing their part in stopping the spread of the infection.
The SIREN study leader, Dr. Susan Hopkins, said:
The results of this PHE study will be an important piece of the puzzle. We know that people who have had COVID-19 produce antibodies in response, but we don’t know if that means they are immune to future infection and how long this protection can last. Improving our understanding will be crucial for future decisions on how best to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Antibody tests require blood samples, which will be collected by qualified personnel and analyzed by existing pathology laboratories across England. Data on the number of positive and negative cases will be communicated to PHE.
The employer will ask health and social services workers if they wish to have an antibody test. For NHS staff, the NHS in England has set up a network of regional CEOs to oversee this work. The NHS will use existing phlebotomy services and put more in place to ensure that all staff can be tested.
For healthcare staff, the screening program will be rolled out gradually in all parts of England. We will agree with local leaders on the best place in the country to start the program and we will work with them to decide how it will be implemented. Social workers will be tested using a separate phlebotomy service, which will be able to draw blood from their workplace.
Patients who already have blood drawn for other tests will be asked if they would like an antibody test.
Antibody testing will have an essential role to play in improving understanding of the level and duration of immunity after infection and the spread of the virus across the country.
The UK government uses its large purchasing power to organize the provision of tests on behalf of devolved administrations, and each devolved nation decides how to use its test allocation and how the tests will be prioritized and managed.
Research is underway to better understand the prevalence of the virus in the UK population through a combination of blood tests and swabs in addition to the PHE immunity study. This is one of many pillar 4 monitoring studies in the testing strategy, including studies from the ONS, Imperial College and IPSOS MORI and the Biobank. This information will help the government manage the ongoing response to the pandemic.
Only laboratory-labeled antibody tests that have been evaluated by Public Health England (PHE) and have shown to provide reliable results will be used in the program. The government has contracts to provide testing with a number of suppliers and will continue to work with other companies to reach new deals.
Notes to editors
The Public Health England study seeks to understand whether the presence of COVID antibodies protects people from future COVID-19 infection. Up to 10,000 healthcare workers will be studied for at least a year, with data collected recording a history of infection and any new symptoms that appear during the study.
Individuals will have nose and throat swabs and regular blood samples to determine new acute infections and measure their antibody response. The study will provide essential information to better understand the future impact of COVID-19 on the population.