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Minister gives breakdown of testing expansion initiatives

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Health Minister Robin Swann visiting the covid-19 centre at Altnagelvin Hospital today 25/03/20 Photo by Simon Graham Photography

Health Minister Robin Swann has issued a detailed breakdown of the expansion of Covid-19 testing in Northern Ireland.

The expansion includes surveillance testing in general practices and hospitals, as well the increased testing in care homes confirmed yesterday.

Mr Swann said: “Testing has always been a critical part of our pandemic response. It has been deployed for different purposes as this Covid-19 pandemic has evolved.

“We are working with a number of key stakeholders and delivery partners across the HSC system, local universities and industry to further expand testing capacity across Northern Ireland.”

The Minister added: “Testing is not and should never be regarded as a silver bullet. It does not trap the virus or halt its spread. But it is a vital part of our weaponry and will continue to be so.

“Our approach includes targeted testing of patients in particular health and care settings, as well as testing in the community for surveillance purposes.

“It is important to reassure patients selected for surveillance testing that this does not necessarily mean they are suspected of having Covid-19 infection. Surveillance testing involves sample testing across groups of patients to help us understand the virus and track its activity.”

The expansion of testing includes:

– a programme of testing and surveillance in general practice, which started at the end of last week. This programme will involve testing and data collection for a sample of patients with respiratory symptoms presenting to their GP. These will be patients whose symptoms do not require referral to hospital or to primary care Covid centre. The surveillance testing programme will be based on general practices already involved in the ‘Influenza GP Spotter Surveillance System’.
– a rolling programme of testing and surveillance in Emergency Departments, which starts this week. This rolling programme will include testing a sample of patients who attend an ED with mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, and who following clinical assessment are deemed not to require admission to hospital.
– testing of patients who are admitted to hospital for emergency or elective care.
– testing of all residents and staff in any care home identified as having a potential outbreak or cluster of infection.
– testing of all patients being discharged from acute hospital care to a care home.
– testing of all patients/residents being transferred into a care home from any setting, whether that be from hospital, supported living or directly from their own home.
– The UK-wide staff testing programme has now been extended to cover key workers in other sectors as well as those in health and social care. This testing is available at three drive-through locations in Northern Ireland – SSE Arena car park; City of Derry Rugby Club; Craigavon MOT centre. Trusts are also continuing to provide testing for health and social care staff as part of their in-house testing provision.

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