The test, which does not need a laboratory, could allow for quicker testing of much larger numbers of people, comes as Britain tries to ramp up testing.
The country is still mainly using laboratory tests which take around 48 hours to produce a result – and either require people to travel long distances to regional testing centres or receive a postal test at home.
Faster testing will allow more people to find out their status without waiting and permit testing on a more regular basis. It could also help Prime Minister Boris Johnson achieve his target of 200,000 tests a day by the end of this month.
The new test is based on the design of a DNA test developed by a professor at Imperial College London. It received approval for clinical use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the end of April after successful trials.
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With a sensitivity of over 98% and specificity of 100%, the DnaNudge test is being rolled out in cancer wards, accident and emergency, and maternity departments, before possibly being used on a wider basis.
The department of health said it was a pilot scheme and that other lab-based tests were also being run in order to look at the benefits and capabilities of each test. The NHS is also using other point-of-care machines to test for Covid-19.
Britain made an initial order of 10,000 DnaNudge cartridges in March and has procured another 70,000 since.
Chris Toumazou, a professor of engineering at Imperial, who developed the test, explained: ‘It is a lab in a cartridge effectively.
‘The key is that with this test you go straight from a saliva swap or a nasal swab into the cartridge with no transport and no laboratory.’
He continued: ‘You can even look at such small fragments of the RNA (Ribonucleic acid) that you can check whether a patient is coming out of it or going into Covid.’
The test, which requires one nostril swab, is being rolled out at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, West Middlesex University Hospital, St Mary’s, and at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital.
Dr Gary Davies, hospital medical director at the Chelsea and Westminster, explained: ‘This test does work and is actually more sensitive than some of the lab tests.’
He said the test was being used for patients coming into hospital to help decide which ward to place them on.
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