Coronavirus tests could be carried out at work with results within two hours by the autumn, officials claim.
The Health Secretary has said officials are in talks with businesses about how they could run their own testing programmes as they re-open.
An NHS chief said it includes using ‘on the spot’ tests, which are those which produce results in very little time without needing to be sent to a laboratory – however they do need to be worked by a healthcare professional.
It means people don’t have to wait days to find out if they can go back to work or self isolate and coronavirus outbreaks can be pinned quickly.
GP surgeries, dentists, prisons, airports and ports may be first in line to offer workplace testing.
But rapid diagnostic devices are in very limited supply. Only a handful of hospitals have been given one for trial purposes with a long list of others, and care homes, waiting.
The ambitious plans – revealed at an industry briefing last week – aim to boost testing figures to expand Boris Johnson’s 200,000-a-day target.
Experts have emphasised the importance of using rapid diagnostic tools in order to keep on top of the crisis.
Ministers are also looking at rolling out a series of new tests by the autumn, such as the saliva test which health chiefs have been validating in recent weeks.
Research suggests saliva tests are more accurate than swabs used now because there is less room for errors in sampling. All it requires is some saliva in a tube.
The Health Secretary has said officials are in talks with businesses about how they could run their own testing programmes as they re-open
It includes using ‘on the spot’ tests, which are those which produce results in very little time without needing to be sent to a laboratory. The Samba II device (pictured), is being used at Addenbrooke’s, a teaching hospital in Cambridge. It can produce results in 90 minutes
The Covid-19 LAMP assay test, developed by UK-based manufacturer Optigene, can turn around results within 20 minutes. It is being trialled in Hampshire
The Government’s current advice still outlines that people should work from home but if they can’t, they are ‘actively encouraged to go to work’.
Guidance for workplaces suggests how to maintain social distancing, such as using glass shields to separate people at desks.
But there is nothing in place to regular test employees to keep the virus under control.
Guidance has not explicitly said employees must be required to give their temperatures or be tested regularly before entering the workplace, but some have taken it upon themselves to do this on a voluntary basis.
Today Matt Hancock revealed workplace testing may soon become the norm in an article for the The Sunday Telegraph.
He said: ‘I’m a massive supporter of the ingenuity of the nation’s businesses. We want businesses to be part of the solution to getting our country back on its feet.
‘So as we take these careful steps to get our economy going again, we will continue working closely with businesses on how they can keep their staff and the public as safe as possible, including how they might run their own testing programmes, if they choose to.’
The plans to bring businesses into the testing strategy were discussed at an industry briefing last week, The Sunday Telegraph reports.
Lindsey Hughes, a deputy director of NHS England, said ‘point of care’ tests provided a ‘really exciting opportunity’ to help firms to re-open and protect their employees from Covid-19.
‘Point-of-care’ tests, otherwise known as ‘on the spot’ tests are those which can be operated on site, such as in a GP surgery.
Machines used at point-of-care need to be operated by healthcare workers, so it is not clear how this could work in places like offices.
Ms Hughes said point of care tests allowed ‘rapid triage’ in hospitals and would also enable quick testing in GP surgeries, dentists, care homes, prisons, and potentially at airports and ports.
She added: ‘We’re really keen to enable employers to play a part in the testing programme.
‘We know that a number of businesses are looking at their own approaches to reopening their businesses and protecting their workforce. Point of care testing is a really exciting opportunity to enable them to do that and take a decentralised approach.
‘As a start, both BEIS [The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] and DHSC [The Department of Health and Social Care] are starting to engage with employers, as part of the BEIS safer working programme.’
Two point-of-care tests are currently being used within the NHS but, although in high demand, are of very limited supply.
The Samba II device, validated by Public Health England, is being used at Addenbrooke’s, a teaching hospital in Cambridge.
The hospital recently revealed how significantly the test had improved the hospital’s workings, because it can give a result in as little as 90 minutes.
This compares to Public Health England’s test which may take 48 hours to produce a result after being sent off the laboratory.
The average time it took to get a test result fell from 39.4 hours to 3.6 hours, according to a trial at Addenbrooke’s, published as a pre-print.
The creators of Samba II, a University of Cambridge spin-off company called Diagnostics for the Real World, say the device is expected to be launched in hospitals across the country.
A donation of US$3million (about £2.4million) from the businessman and philanthropist Sir Chris Hohn means 100 machines have been purchased so far.
Mr Hancock announced in May it will trial the other rapid diagnostic test – the Covid-19 LAMP assay test – in a pilot study in Hampshire.
Around 4,000 patients will be the first to try the new antigen test, which looks for signs of current coronavirus infection.
The test, developed by UK-based manufacturer Optigene, can turn around results within 20 minutes.
If successful, the test would first be rolled out to a number of A&E departments without access to laboratories, GP coronavirus testing hubs and care homes across Hampshire, the Department of Health said.
Ministers are also keen to use antibody testing in the work environment – but have faced obstacles to get this off the ground since the start of the pandemic.
The ‘have you had it’ tests scan the blood for antibodies which signal a person has already had Covid-19 and have since recovered.
‘Immunity passports’ to say someone has had the virus and are therefore immune were in the pipeline. But have been shelved due to weak evidence of immunity from reinfection.
The Government said 10million antibody tests had been ordered from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche and US-based healthcare company Abbott on May 22.
NHS and care home staff were prioritised and testing is still ongoing.
But it is not clear how they will reach the public in the future, or if the results of antibody tests will be useful considering the gaps in scientific understanding of immunity.
The ambitions of workforce testing have come into the Government’s plans to scale up testing in order to optimise the contact tracing system.
Contact tracing relies on both high numbers and rapid results of testing to work properly and avoid a second wave of the virus.
Under the programme, people who have been in close contact with a positive Covid-19 case must self-isolate for two weeks if told to.
The contacts of a person with Covid-19 – traced by Government employed call handlers – are only notified when a positive test result is returned.
If this takes two days or more, it could lead to those contacts infecting more people when they should have been told to self isolate.
Officials are seeking a series of new tests which can be scaled up and ready by the autumn – at which point schools are supposed to return.
The Government is reportedly in talks with epigenetics company Chronomics about its saliva test for coronavirus (pictured)
One of those is expected to be saliva tests which have been under close analysis by health chiefs in recent weeks.
The Government is reportedly in talks with epigenetics company Chronomics about its saliva test – two months after the US approved a similar one.
The kit, which requires someone to spit into a tube, is easier and less painful than swabs currently used at hospitals, drive-in test facilities and in home packs.
Chronomics says it has the ability to significantly increase how many tests are conducted.
An expert involved with the project said the firm was able to turn around test results within one hour of the samples arriving at laboratories.
Professor John Newton, the Government’s testing tsar at PHE, has previously said saliva tests are ‘really interesting’ in the diagnosis of Covid-19.
‘So we are actively looking at those and we are engaging with the companies and if they prove to be better then we will use those,’ he said.
Lawrence Young, a virologist and infectious disease expert at Warwick University, who previously told MailOnline Government officials were looking at saliva tests said: ‘I think saliva testing looks very promising and more reliable.’
To speed up testing, a four-week validation process of ‘pooling’ has begun, according to the briefing.
The process means a large group of tests are read by laboratory technicians in one go, rather than individually.
If the result is negative, all samples could be ‘ruled out’, and if it is positive, each would then be examined individually.
When the infection rate is low and only a few people are infected, pool testing can significantly expand testing capacity.
Therefore, it will likely become useful as infections continue to decline in the UK.
A Government presentation stated: ‘Sample pooling is being applied internationally in the testing of Covid-19, most noticeably in Germany, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Israel.’