Mike Fischer won Department of Health and Social Care backing after launching the Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network of small, private laboratories. The Oxford physics graduate and philanthropist has 26 labs lined up to supplement official vital antigen tests on health and care workers. One of the labs has already identified the source of a coronavirus breakout among elderly care home residents.
Mr Fischer, 69, said: “We believe that it is vital to test even asymptomatic frontline healthcare workers regularly.
“Even people who do not show symptoms may be carriers of the virus and transmit the infection to others.”
His Abingdon-based Systems Biology Laboratory in Oxfordshire began by testing local GPs.
He then put in £1million from his own charitable foundation and appealed for other labs to join him.
So far six are operating and another 20 will join at the end of next month. Their current 1,000 tests per day should increase to 10,000 with all laboratories open. They test local health workers by using swabs delivered to a care centre and then they are picked up later, delivering results within a day.
Because the process is so swift, workers can be given the all-clear more frequently.
One member lab, Sheffield-based Davis French & Associates, uncovered an outbreak while screening staff at a community care provider. A number of the organisation’s elderly customers had become critically ill and were in hospital with coronavirus.
Managers were worried carers had been exposed to the disease, and possibly transmitted it as they visited different homes.
Greg French, managing director of Davis French, said: “We tested 20 of their carers, finding eight positives.
“None of them had been showing symptoms when they were tested, but had still been at risk of spreading the virus. Our testing helped to make sure that the disease was discovered and they could isolate.
“This helps to keep them away from other staff and those in need of care, keeping them safe and slowing the spread of the virus.”