Hospital applies to permanently retain vital coronavirus testing lab

Testing in care homes had increased in Suffolk over the last month. PIcture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHO

A recently built pathology lab at Ipswich Hospital only has consent for use until December 31 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The trust behind Ipswich Hospital has applied to permanently retain a one-of-a-kind coronavirus testing lab on its site.

The recently-built pathology lab is the only new centre of its kind funded by the Department of Health and Social Care in England.

It is currently being used to process coronavirus tests for Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk hospitals and their associated catchment areas.

The two-storey centre is yet to formally open, although it only has temporary planning consent until December 31 under emergency protocols related to the pandemic.

The East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) is now applying to Ipswich Borough Council to permanently keep the £5.3million centre to aid other areas of healthcare in future, as well as help with the "aftermath" of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheila Mason died at Ipswich Hospital after a fall at her home in October

The pathology lab allows Ipswich Hospital to do coronavirus testing in-house - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Planners say the lab serves as a "key part" in the hospital's response to the pandemic, with tests during the onset of the virus previously needing to be sent for analysis in Cambridge and taking seven days to be returned.

They also argue it provides better value for the taxpayer by making it a permanent addition to the site.

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Scientists, who have been recently begun work in the lab, can now process thousands of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests every day, with results returned in less than 24 hours.

It is hoped retaining the centre would not only help with any future waves of the pandemic, but could also be used for molecular testing of influenza, MRSA or sexually-transmitted infections – as well as to provide rapid tests for cancer patients.

The existing pathology centre has been linked to the new lab, with around 70 members of staff working across the site in pathology-related roles.

An ESNEFT spokeswoman said: "The lab is a key part of our response to Covid-19, as well as giving us a modern diagnostic toolkit for tests ranging from flu and MRSA to rapid cancer tests for years to come.

"When it opens we will be in total control of our testing capacity, with no need to outsource and rely on other testing sites."

The plans will now be reviewed by the borough council's planning committee, with a decision expected to be made by mid-October.