Group of GPs buys 2,000 antibody blood tests which tell you if you've already had coronavirus

 The coronavirus outbreak has put huge pressure on GPs and their staff
Seanín Graham

A group of GPs has bought almost 2,000 'antibody' blood tests to assess if doctors and staff have already had coronavirus.

The Irish News has learned that 16 practices have bulk purchased the kits from a Co Antrim firm - at a cost of around £7,000 - in a bid to determine if self-isolating workers could return to work.

Dr George O’Neill confirmed that the West Belfast GP Federation had come up with the idea, but said the kits would only be used to test surgery staff, including all nursing support and administration workers as well as its GPs.

The medic stressed that while the antibody kits have not been "validated", their accuracy is understood to be "very high" and give results in just 10 minutes from a finger-prick of blood.

There are two types of tests for Covid-19 - the validated swab test which tells if you currently have the virus or not. The other is the antibody blood test which will tell you weeks later, when you no longer have symptoms, whether you've had the virus.

Earlier this week it emerged the British government had bought 3.5 million antibody tests which are now being evaluated - with health secretary Matt Hancock saying they "offer the hope" that people who think they have the disease "will know they are immune and can get back to life".

Dr O'Neill told The Irish News that the group of GPs had bought their supply for the purposes of screening staff. Latest figures show that around 30 per cent of people infected will show no symptoms.

"The beauty of these antibody blood tests is that if someone tests positive it means they could have built some type of immunity and gives us some confidence about them returning to work if they are self-isolating at home," he said.

"Ideally it is better to test someone after 20 days of infection. If they are positive, we don't know how long that immunity will last as we are still in the very early stages of this virus and there is so much uncertainty around it.

"A test that is highly accurate is better than no test at all".

A Dundonald based firm, Biopanda Reagents, is also manufacturing a 'Covid-19 Rapid Test Kit', which is designed for healthcare and clinical staff usage only.

Such is the demand for its antibody kits that Biopanda has stopped taking international orders.

Their tests works in much the same way as a pregnancy testing home kit. Two finger-pricks of blood are taken and are put in a tray with a chemical then added - two 'blue lines' suggest you've previously had Covid-19.

A representative from the Dundonald company said the the kits were "highly accurate" but added they had not been approached by health officials in Northern Ireland about supply: "We've not been approached directly by the government or Public Health England or any of the other public health agencies of the four nations. If we were approached we would be happy to submit our tests for validation. We think that's a good thing," Han Yan told the BBC.

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