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Yorkshire & Humber views aid new, fast COVID-19 tests

Posted: 24th June 2020

Professor Gail Howard

A wide range of patients and the public, brought together by the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN, provided insights to help the launch of national research which is evaluating how new tests, designed to be quicker and more accurate, perform in the real-life settings of hospitals, general practices and care homes.

The panel of 24 people, with backgrounds including two Paralympians, microbiologists, lecturers, carers, and cancer sufferers, took part in remote video meetings organised by AHSN colleague Graham Prestwich, to highlight the issues they felt the research should address about care home diagnostics and inclusion of samples from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

Graham said: “It was very clear from the discussions and subsequent large amounts of feedback that the panel wanted to see very good, clear communications about the tests. And they very strongly felt they wanted all communities included.

“They came from all ages and experiences and had worked in a wide range of settings, and their views helped to secure the funding for this very important research.

“I was pleased that the AHSN was able to respond quickly and effectively to urgent national requirements and for the feedback on the event to be very positive.

“As a result of this piece we have been asked to continue to support the Patient and Public Involvement work through membership of the CONDOR Steering Group.”

CONDOR – the COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform  – funded by the National Institute for Health Research, UK Research and Innovation, and Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation – will create a single national route for evaluating new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings.

The main test currently used often involves sending samples away to laboratories, which can take up to 72 hours to provide results. Some new tests may be able to provide almost immediate results in hospitals, GP surgeries or during home visits, but many have yet to be thoroughly evaluated in these settings.

Dissemination and national rollout of promising tests will be led by the Academic Health Science Networks in North East and North Cumbria and in Yorkshire and Humber.

Co-primary investigator Professor Gail Hayward is Associate Professor at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and Deputy Director of the NIHR Community Healthcare MedTech and IVD Co-operative. She said: “While a new diagnostic test might work well in a lab under controlled conditions, there are many different factors that could make it less accurate when you take that test out of the lab and into the real world.

“These include the range of ways that COVID-19 can present itself, from non-symptomatic carriers to post-symptomatic people who have recovered, the range of other illnesses people might have, and the challenges of performing tests in a busy clinical environment.

“Right now there’s a critical gap in how we road-test new diagnostics for COVID-19. By robustly evaluating these diagnostics in health and care settings, the CONDOR programme will help the government and clinicians to understand the real-world accuracy of these tests in patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms in the NHS.”

Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “We need the fastest, most accurate tests in the NHS to help keep COVID-19 under control.

“I’m delighted we’re committing £1.3m to this brilliant new national research programme, to evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in health and social care settings – so we can track levels of infection and immunity across the country and help keep people safe.”

The programme is led by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford, in collaboration with four NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs) – NIHR Community Healthcare MIC, NIHR Leeds MIC, NIHR London MIC and the NIHR Newcastle MIC – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust’s Diagnostics and Technology Accelerator (DiTA), the University of Nottingham, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, and the National Measurement Laboratory, hosted at LGC.

The research team will work with the government and its scientific advisors to identify which new commercially developed diagnostic tests could be most valuable in the NHS.

The research will be supported by the expertise of NIHR MICs, existing teams in NHS organisations and universities that work with companies and specialise in evaluating, and generating high quality evidence on, in vitro diagnostic tests.

Dr Michael Messenger, Deputy Director of the NIHR Leeds MIC and now seconded to the government as a Scientific Advisor to the COVID-19 Testing Programme, said: “We’ve got a wealth of expertise in the NIHR MICs, with Newcastle providing care pathway analysis expertise, the experts in Oxford leading on evaluating tests in community settings, Leeds and Newcastle advising on analytical validation of tests, and London specialising in human factors in diagnostic testing. We’ve also brought in DiTA, which has expertise in evaluating tests in acute care environments.

“The MICs allow us to instantly access a network of experts across the country who specialise in evaluating in vitro diagnostics and provide a valuable infrastructure in the government response to COVID-19.”

To find out how else we are supporting local health and care systems and industry innovators in our region during COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 web pages.