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Lighthouse Laboratory Plymouth stepped down from national testing network

 

The Lighthouse Laboratory Plymouth will perform RT-PCR testing on its final covid swab on Thursday 31 March 2022 when it will step-down from the national testing network.

Plymouth joined the network of Lighthouse Laboratories last March, following a major project to convert a former engineering warehouse into a high-tech lab which has been operated by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust. This was part of a move to increase national testing capacity at a time when England began to its take first steps out of lockdown and the team has provided continued support to the covid response ever since.

Chief Executive of University Hospitals Plymouth, Ann James moved to commend the dedication of everyone involved in making the Lighthouse Lab a reality: “Bringing the Lighthouse Lab to Plymouth was an important step in the covid response and I never would have quite believed that we could step up a facility and team quite so quickly. This has been delivered on the back of the dedication and commitment of so many people and really encompasses the wider UHP #1BigTeam.

“The work and impact of the Lighthouse Lab has been truly exceptional and I hope the team will always take that with them. I’d like to thank everyone on behalf of the Trust and the many, many people they will have helped through their work.”

In February, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced that the Estover site would be one of a number of Lighthouse Laboratories to be stepped down from the national testing network, as part of the Government’s Living with COVID strategy. UKHSA will be consolidating network capacity into a smaller number of laboratories as it sets out a plan to support future demand for PCR testing.

This will mark the end of a near 18-month journey from inception. Mark Lavery, the Lighthouse Lab’s General Manager has been involved from the early stages and has seen the transformation of an empty engineering warehouse into a fully-functioning laboratory: “It has been a privilege to be involved with such an important project which was delivered at a remarkable pace. This involved countless tradespeople, technical specialists and a whole range of Trust staff from all different backgrounds to ready a facility and workforce that is capable to deliver such a high-throughput service.

“We had to very quickly train and on-board more than 200 people in a matter of weeks, but what has shone through is the calibre of the staff here and their drive to contribute as part of the local response to this global pandemic. We very quickly bonded and I consider this to be one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with in over 30 years in the national health service.”

Lab Manager, Emma Hallett has overseen the operational running of the laboratory since June and has witnessed the work of the team first-hand: “The team here have been absolutely amazing, they have risen above and beyond any challenge I have set for them. This has seen them constantly strive for improvement in efficiencies within high-quality testing to deliver faster turnaround times for patients.

“As a lab, we’ve importantly also been able to contribute to national sequencing of epidemiological data around Variants of Concern (VoC) and any emerging variants not seen within the VoC assay. Overall, I would say that it has been an incredible journey.”

Although it will step-down from the national pillar 2 testing provided at the Lighthouse Lab (tests for the general population), University Hospitals Plymouth will retain covid testing capacity for urgent clinical purposes through its Microbiology Service at Derriford Hospital. This in-house team has been essential in providing Pillar 1 testing (urgent testing for healthcare staff and clinical purpose) from the very start of the pandemic.

Works will begin to decommission the Lighthouse Lab with a core group of staff being retained to assist with this process. Discussions are underway to look at how this facility can be repurposed as part of a molecular legacy for the city. This includes looking into how some services could be provided away from Derriford Hospital to release space within the acute site.

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