9 December 2020

They are at the very heart of Shropshire’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every day they carefully decipher hundreds of tests extracting and detecting the relevant information to determine who is COVID-19 positive and who is negative.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Microbiology team at SaTH has provided the results for COVID-19 swabs taken from patients, care home residents, staff, the prison service and from within the community – turning around as many as 3,000 samples a week, amounting to around 61,000 in total so far.

That’s on top of nearly 17,000 NHS antibody tests processed during the summer, along with the regular SIREN testing for clinical research teams and routine day-to-day work.

To cope with demand, they have now taken delivery of much-needed additional new equipment to enable them to provide an expanded service, which will see the number of tests they are able to deal with double from around 500 to 1,000 every day.

It also means that some tests can be turned around much more rapidly – some in under two hours – but on a smaller scale.

The team’s hours of working have increased to provide a seven-day service to ensure that results are delivered as quickly as possible.

In order to meet the rise in demand for its services, the Microbiology department has also completed a recruitment drive taking on new Medical Laboratory Assistants, Associate Practitioners and trainee Biomedical Scientists.

This is a phenomenal response from a small, dedicated army of scientists working behind the scenes in the laboratories at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. The team includes clinical scientists, consultants, biomedical scientists and laboratory assistants.

They have, in the space of just a few months, learned to use new testing equipment, increased the number of samples tested – and they have even continued to work through the disruption of a recent laboratory move required in order to accommodate the additional machines.

Louise Barnett, Trust Chief Executive, said: “I am so proud of all our teams who are working around the clock to keep our patients safe during the pandemic. The Microbiology team has done a fantastic job providing the results to thousands of COVID-19 tests, whilst also embracing new technology and ways of working at pace.”

Angus McGregor, Trust Clinical Director for Pathology, said: “The team has responded incredibly to the challenges of implementing COVID-19 testing. Every time a new challenge comes along, they seem to just deal with it.

“An amazing team doing an amazing job.”

Sarah Gilbert, Deputy Head of Microbiology at the Trust which also runs the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, said: “It really has been a phenomenal response by the team who have really stepped up and delivered. The situation, as you would expect in a pandemic, is constantly evolving and it has presented many challenges.

“As well as a huge increase in the volume of work, we have been given new equipment as part of the response to the pandemic which has also meant a significant training challenge for us. It has been quite a learning curve.

“Demand for our services has never slowed down, in fact it has continued to grow and grow and I’m very proud of how the team has responded to provide a critical service at what is an unprecedented time for all of us.”