Network of 100 GP practices to carry out coronavirus surveillance testing

A network of 100 primary care sites across England will carry out opportunistic testing for coronavirus in patients with respiratory infections as part of an NHS surveillance strategy.

Coronavirus testing (KTS Design/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
Coronavirus testing (KTS Design/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)

Health officials say there is 'no current evidence' to show that the SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes COVID-19 - is circulating in the community in England.

But amid rising concern over the potential for a global pandemic, and following an update to guidance this week to reflect concern over growing outbreaks in Italy, Iran and South Korea, Public Health England (PHE) has announced the rollout of a national surveillance scheme for coronavirus.

The scheme aims to pick up early evidence if COVID-19 cases begin to spread in England to help the NHS 'prepare for and prevent wider transmission'.

Coronavirus test

A total of eight NHS hospitals across the country have confirmed their participation in the scheme - with plans to send samples from patients with severe respiratory infection who do not fit current guidelines for COVID-19 testing to be checked for the disease.

A network of around 100 primary care sites across England will also send in samples for testing from 'mild and more unwell cases' who do not fit current guidelines for COVID-19 testing.

PHE medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle said: 'We have taken a belt and braces approach throughout this outbreak. This new system is another important way we can help limit the impact of COVID-19 in the UK, as we continue to ensure we have the best possible intelligence to protect the public’s health.

'There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus. The UK’s infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response.'

Isolation

Public health officials confirmed that patients who meet the current guidelines for COVID-19 risk will continue to be managed in the same way, with patients 'isolated and tested as appropriate'. Testing on this group will not be slowed down by the wider surveillance scheme, officials said.

At least 20 GP practices have forced to close temporarily in recent weeks after contact with suspected coronavirus cases.

The latest figures from the government show that 13 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK - with 6,782 out of 6,795 tests carried out returning a negative result.

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