A new test that can diagnose a patient with flu in just 20 minutes could save the NHS £24million a year.
Hospital patients currently have to wait for their tests to be sent to a laboratory, with it sometimes taking several days to get the results.
The new test – called cobas Liat – means staff can take a single nose or throat swab, which is then instantly analysed by a machine.
Trials at two hospital trusts have shown a significant drops in bed-blocking and unnecessary admissions as a result.
Life-saver: The new test, named cobas Liat, means medical staff can take a single nose or throat, swab which is analysed by a machine – saving delays and bed costs
Manufacturer Roche Diagnostics claimed the test can be used to detect more than 40 strains of Influenza A and B, as well as seven strains of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a leading cause of respiratory disease.
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which piloted the scheme, found that out of 277 tests carried out over four months, 128 (46 per cent) came back as positive.
This allowed them to make more efficient use of side rooms, as well as diagnosing patients quicker.
The number of blocked beds dropped from an average of 11 pre-test to just two post-test, with the mean number of patients with flu in a hospital bay also decreasing from 12.3 to 2.7.
The trust estimates the amount of money it could save over a flu season is around £142,555. This includes £104,125 of bed days, £7,560 in blocked beds saved and £30,870 in avoided admissions.
The acute assessment unit at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London also piloted the test with similar results.
Roche Diagnostics say it can be used to detect more than 40 strains of Influenza A and B, plus seven of respiratory syncytial virus, which is a leading cause of respiratory disease
WHAT FLU STRAINS ARE IN THE UK IN 2018?
There are many different types of flu circulating around the world, but four main types are being seen in Britain this winter.
H3N2 – Dubbed ‘Aussie flu’ after it struck Australia hard last winter, this strain is more likely to affect the elderly, who do not respond well to the current vaccine. This is one of the most common strains seen so far this winter, with at least 63 confirmed cases seen in official laboratories.
H1N1 – This strain – known as ‘swine flu’ – is generally more likely to hit children, who respond well to vaccination. This has been seen nearly as often as H3N2 so far this year, with at least 50 cases confirmed in labs. In the past it was commonly caught from pigs, but that changed in 2009 when it started spreading rapidly among humans in a major global pandemic.
B / Yamagata – This is known as ‘Japanese flu’. Only people who received the ‘four strain’ vaccine – which is being slowly rolled out after it was introduced for the first time last winter – are protected against the Yamagata strain. Those who received the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine are not protected. This strain has been seen in at least 63 lab cases so far this winter.
B / Victoria – This strain is vaccinated against in the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine, but has hardly appeared so far this winter, with just around four confirmed cases.
Kingston Hospital carried out 1,526 tests over 19 weeks and found just 479 came back positive, with 65 per cent of suspected cases being discharged or not requiring isolation.
The fast diagnosis meant 33 per cent of patients who tested negative and were otherwise well were discharged on the same day, avoiding unnecessary admissions.
Flu affects five-to-10 per cent of adults and 20-to-30 per cent of children each year, peaking between January and March.
Geoff Twist, managing director of Roche Diagnostics, said: ‘I am delighted that the cobas Liat test has received such good feedback from Kingston and Norfolk, with it leading to clear and significant reductions in the number of unnecessary admissions, blocked beds and bay closures.
‘I am particularly happy that this helps us quickly relieve the stress for people of not knowing whether themselves or a loved one has the flu, and swiftly enabling their medical care.
‘These tests not only help healthcare professionals make quick and effective decisions over the high pressure season and lead to long-term cost savings, but they give patients a better experience.’
Berenice Constable, head of nursing at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, added: ‘This has had a big impact on improving timely treatment for patients, supporting appropriate isolation procedures and ultimately improving patient experience.
‘Operationally it has helped to ensure that beds are not closed unnecessarily and has supported decision making.’