Quick flu test tipped to save NHS in England £24m a year

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A new test that can diagnose a patient with flu in just 20 minutes has seen significant drops in bed blocking and unnecessary admissions in trials at two hospital trusts.

Hospital patients usually have to wait for their tests to be sent to a laboratory and it can take several days to get the results, often meaning they are put into unnecessary isolation, significantly affecting the management of beds.

The new test – named cobas Liat – means medical staff who are worried about a patient’s symptoms can take a single nasopharyngeal swab which is analysed by a machine.

Manufacturer Roche Diagnostics said it can be used to detect more than 40 strains of Influenza A and B, and seven of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a leading cause of respiratory disease.

It said the simple test could result in potential savings for the NHS in England of as much as £24 million a year.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust started using cobas Liat in January.

It found that out of 277 tests carried out after four months, 128 (46%) 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 post-test, and the mean number of patients with flu in a bay dropped from 12.3 to 2.7 during the period.

The trust estimates the amount of money it could save over a flu season by using the test is around £142,555, before the cost of the kits is accounted for.

This includes £104,125 of bed days saved, £7,560 in blocked beds saved and £30,870 in avoided admissions.

The cobas Liat system has also been introduced in the emergency department and the acute assessment unit at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London.

Kingston is situated in a high elderly care catchment area, so the impact of the flu season can be severe.

The trust implemented the test after a large number of patients required unnecessary isolation during the 2016/17 flu season.

It carried out 1,526 tests over a 19-week period and found just 479 came back positive, with 65% of suspected cases discharged or, if admitted, not requiring initial isolation once other risks had been ruled out.

The fast diagnosis meant 33% of patients who tested negative and were otherwise well were discharged on the same day, avoiding unnecessary admissions.

Flu affects 5%-10% of adults and 20%-30% of children each year, peaking between January and March, while last winter saw a particularly challenging flu season.

Geoff Twist, managing director of Roche Diagnostics, said: “I am delighted that the cobas Liat test has received such good feedback from Kingston and Norfolk, with it leading to clear and significant reductions in the number of unnecessary admissions, blocked beds and bay closures.

“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.

“These tests not only help healthcare professionals make quick and effective decisions over the high pressure season and lead to long-term cost savings, but they give patients a better experience.”

Berenice Constable, head of nursing at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This has had a big impact on improving timely treatment for patients, supporting appropriate isolation procedures and ultimately improving patient experience.

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

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