Difficulties in getting tested when he contracted Covid-19 last year led a medic in the North to set up a rapid testing service.
Dr John T Doherty, who is a consultant anaesthetist at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, is also CEO and Medical Director at JACE Medical which offers antigen and PCR testing to individuals and companies.
Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show, Dr Doherty said it would be easy to “scale up” and offer rapid testing at large-scale events. The technology was already there, he said, and it was just a matter of good teamwork and co-operation between sectors.
Dr Doherty’s service was testing up to 14,000 workers in the construction sector per week at one stage across multiple sites using multiple teams. From 6am-9am on a Monday morning between 3,500 and 4,000 were completed, he said.
The system was streamlined with a maximum waiting time of five to six minutes before testing with the results then texted to the person’s phone.
It was a combination of technology and process and flow management, he explained. In the early stages the incidence rate was 5%, but within 10 days that was down to 0.15%.
“Many organisations could benefit from our experience,” he added.
Dr Doherty said he had been interested in the area of testing for over 12 years and had access to laboratories so that when he contracted Covid-19 himself and found it difficult to get tested, he felt the need to make testing more accessible.
“I saw a gap in the market.” PCR testing was taking too long “to halt Covid in its tracks” which heightened his interest in rapid testing. Quicker action was needed to stop outbreaks, he said.
The new service he established was immediately used by the food and fishing sector in Donegal who felt rapid testing was a vital tool to allow those industries to keep working at a time when Covid levels were high in the community. The construction sector is another major client.
Dr Doherty said that the cost of testing was dependent on the numbers involved, the test itself was cheap, it was hiring experienced people to perform the test and data collection that made the cost “upwards of €10” for each test.