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Paramedics to test Oxford patients for COVID-19 before hospital transfers

South Central Ambulance says it's a pioneering study designed to tackle handover delays in emergency departments.

The pilot study will see lateral flow tests administered by trained ambulance crews to patients on the decision to transfer them to hospital.

The trial will involve all patients over 18, both with or without symptoms, who are being taken to Oxford University Hospitals, which has been designed to speed up handovers and release crews more quickly.

Lateral flow tests are currently used to detect coronavirus in people with no symptoms and are only used when patients being transferred by ambulance arrive at hospital without confirmed COVID-19. 

The test involves placing a swab in the nose and/or mouth which is then mixed with a solution that looks for virus fragments. Droplets are then placed onto the device and a result is delivered within 30 minutes.

The process will ensure a patient has test results on or very soon after arrival to inform secondary care clinicians which COVID-19 care pathway should be followed.

Dr John Black, Medical Director at SCAS, said:“The pandemic saw hospitals quickly arrange separate pathways for receiving patients, with red/COVID-19 for patients reporting symptoms and with suspected or confirmed infection, and green/non-COVID for patients not reporting symptoms and without suspected or confirmed infection.

“When these tests are carried out on arrival at hospital, social distancing requirements and the wait for results may contribute to ambulance handover delays and a bottleneck in patient flow through the care pathways.

Dr Black believes the use of lateral flow tests pre-hospital will have a direct and positive impact on reducing handover delays and increase patient hospital flow.

“This is a small study to begin with in Oxford, so it will not happen with every patient transfer across SCAS, however, further roll out to a wider area will be considered if the concept is proved through the pilot and there is sufficient access to lateral flow devices," he added. 

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