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Natasha Pilgrim Blog – Testing times

Date: 25/06/2020 | Category: Blogs

When I began my NHS career as a corporate administration assistant with Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), little did I know that within 18 months I would be playing an active role in trying to stop the spread of a highly infectious disease that was killing thousands of people.

As coronavirus spread throughout the UK, the CCG called on its staff to consider redeployment to areas where they could help with the local response. I decided to volunteer for the COVID-19 swab testing team, who perform an important role in reducing the number of people being infected by the virus.

After completing the online training I joined the team at the drive-through testing site at Steppingley Hospital where I received more training and was issued with hospital scrubs and PPE. This included a disposable apron, a fluid resistant surgical mask, latex gloves and protective goggles. Not the most stylish look, I agree, but essential to protect myself and the people I come into contact with.

At Steppingley I found myself carrying out swab tests on key workers and their families who were displaying coronavirus symptoms. At first I was a nervous – this was after all at a time when the daily death toll from COVID-19 was rising – but I put these feelings to the back of my mind and got stuck into my new role.

We work in pairs, with one member of the team acting as a “clean” practitioner and the other as a “dirty” practitioner. After checking that the details of the person being tested correspond with our records, the “dirty” practitioner takes a nasal and throat swab.

After the swabbing has been completed the “dirty” practitioner puts the swab into a vial before dropping it into a bag held by the “clean” practitioner. The “clean” practitioner ensures the vial is properly sealed and refrigerated before it’s sent to the lab. The person being tested remains in their car throughout the swabbing procedure.
Later we set up a drive-through testing site in Bedford town centre. If someone is unable to get to a drive-through testing site we travel to their homes and conduct the test on their doorstep. We’ve also visited care homes to swab all residents and staff, homes for people with learning disabilities and assisted living dwellings. On these occasions the swabs are always transported in a red biohazard box.

On an average day we test about 140 people. If a result comes back positive the infected person is informed and advised to self-isolate. Those who record a negative test can return to work.

Having a swab inserted into your throat and up your nose is not the most pleasant of experiences, so it’s not surprising some people are more than a little anxious about having the test. Part of my job is to offer reassurance and it’s lovely to hear them say afterwards that it was nowhere near as bad as they thought it was going to be.