Three Lighthouse laboratories begin testing for COVID-19

  • Working in partnership with and funded by NHS Test and Trace, the laboratories are at the heart of UK’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus
  • Managed by local NHS trusts, the labs will help keep turnaround times as short as possible, helping to find positive cases and save lives

Three new lighthouse labs that process COVID-19 tests have started operations, joining the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history to help play a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19.

Based in Brants Bridge, Gateshead and Plymouth, the laboratories will work in partnership with NHS Test and Trace and are being managed by:

  • Berkshire and Surrey Pathology Services
  • Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

The geographical spread of these laboratories means more testing capacity is available locally and nationally for those who need it, which in turn will help to keep turnaround times low so positive cases can be traced as quickly as possible, stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.

The laboratories were first announced last year and have been purposefully created to process COVID-19 samples with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment in all 3 sites. They will process PCR tests from home testing and local testing sites in their region, as well as the rest of the country when needed. NHS Test and Trace’s investment in these laboratories has also supported the creation of local jobs with each very-high throughput laboratory having a multi-skilled workforce, as well as roles available in the manufacturing and supply chain.

NHS Test and Trace now has the capacity to carry out more than 750,000 PCR tests per day compared to 2,000 just 9 months ago.

Lord Bethell, Health Minister, said:

I am delighted these new Lighthouse laboratories are now up and running as planned. They are part of Britain’s largest-ever network of diagnostic testing facilities and will play a crucial role in our collective efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

I would like to thank everyone involved for the hard work that has gone into establishing and running the labs. Testing is absolutely crucial to our plans to get back to normal life as we cautiously ease restrictions, and these new facilities will play an integral role in that as part of NHS Test and Trace.

Nicola Newman, Managing Director of Berkshire and Surrey Pathology Services (BSPS), an NHS joint venture, said:

Testing remains a vital element in tackling COVID-19, identifying people with the virus so that they can self-isolate and reduce transmission. Thanks to the fantastic efforts from dedicated colleagues and partners, our new Lighthouse laboratory is ready to provide COVID-19 testing in support of the national effort.

BSPS is one of the largest NHS pathology networks in the country and this experience has helped us to expand our diagnostic facilities to analyse tens of thousands of samples per day – deploying our expertise to support the biggest network of diagnostic testing our country has ever seen.

Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Chief Executive, Dame Jackie Daniel, said:

We’re delighted that our new, high-capacity Lighthouse laboratory has now opened at Baltic Park in Gateshead, as part of the NHS Test and Trace programme.

The facility was built by partners pulling together and puts us in a stronger position to manage and control the virus. It is testimony to the collaborative approach we have taken to tackling COVID-19.

NHS Test and Trace’s investment in this new Lighthouse laboratory provides a valuable resource for our region, supporting the fight against this pandemic and strengthening our resilience even further.

Director of Planning and Site Services and Deputy Chief Executive at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, Nick Thomas, said:

As a city-wide partnership, we identified early on that Plymouth possessed the specialist skills and expertise to host a high-throughput laboratory. Testing plays an important role in the national response to COVID-19 and our staff will be at the forefront of those efforts.

Bringing this facility to the city is a real achievement, as in the longer term it will leave a legacy, opening up numerous possibilities as a shared asset across the city’s scientific community and the wider peninsula.

Background information

The NHS Test and Trace network includes more than 1,000 sites across the UK, including 90 drive-through sites, 514 walk-through sites, 7 Lighthouse laboratories, home testing and satellite kits, and a large number of mobile units.

We are continuing to invest in the next generation of leading diagnostic facilities and developing a pandemic response infrastructure.

The plan for these Lighthouse labs was announced last year.

Berkshire and Surrey Pathology Services is an NHS joint venture between Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals, Frimley Health, Royal Berkshire and Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts.

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