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New faster flu test 'could save NHS £24m'

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A revolutionary new test that can diagnose influenza in 20 minutes has helped to prevent unnecessary bed closures and improve “timely treatment for patients”, says a head of nursing.

Those behind the cobas Liat test believe it could potentially save the NHS £24m every year and help to prevent unnecessary patient isolation.

“This has had a big impact on improving timely treatment for patients, supporting appropriate isolation procedures and ultimately improving patient experience”

Berenice Constable

Nursing staff and doctors can use the test made by Roche Diagnostics to detect 43 strains of flu A and B, and seven of respiratory syncytial virus - a leading cause of respiratory disease.

Previously, patients had to wait for their tests to be sent to a laboratory, and results could take several days to come back - meaning unnecessary isolation for some.

However, with the cobas Liat test, health professionals who suspect a patient has flu can take a single nasopharyngeal swab. This is then used to create a test sample and added to a disposable test tube, which is then scanned and analysed by a machine.

An initial roll out of the test at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has shown promising results, reducing delayed transfers of care and leading to fewer bay closures.

Out of 277 tests carried out at Norfolk and Norwich, 128 came back positive leading to more efficient use of side rooms and quicker diagnosis. The number of blocked beds dropped from an average of 11 pre-test to two afterwards and the mean number of patients with flu in a bay dropped from 12.3 to 2.7 during the period the test was used.

Kingston implemented the test after a large number of patients required unnecessary isolation during the 2016-17 flu season. It carried out 1,526 tests in conjunction with a full clinical assessment over a 19-week period.

It found just 479 came back positive, with 65% of suspected cases discharged or, if admitted, didn’t require initial isolation, once other risks had been ruled out.

The fast diagnosis meant that 33% of cases that were flu negative and otherwise well were discharged on the same day, avoiding unnecessary admissions. All samples in the first three weeks were tested in parallel with the laboratory and an accuracy of 100% (of valid results) was found.

Speaking about the new flu test, Berenice Constable, head of nursing for emergency department and medicine at Kingston, said: “This has had a big impact on improving timely treatment for patients, supporting appropriate isolation procedures and ultimately improving patient experience.

“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”

Geoff Twist 

“Operationally it has helped to ensure that beds are not closed unnecessarily and has supported clinical decision making.”

Flu affects 5-10% of adults and 20-30% of children each year. It occurs most often during the winter season in the UK, peaking between January and March.

The new test comes after last year’s particularly challenging flu season, which saw emergency admissions in December reach 520,163 – the highest monthly figure on record.

Geoff Twist, managing director for Roche Diagnostics Limited, said he was “delighted” the test received positive feedback from Kingston and Norfolk.

“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,” he added.

Mr Twist claimed the test would “help significantly relieve the burden of winter conditions on the NHS”.

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