A simple 30-minute flu test is helping staff at South Tyneside Hospital free up much needed beds and diagnose patients faster.
As the National Health Service battles against the flu epidemic sweeping the country, staff at the hospital, in Harton Lane, south Shields, are using a new ‘point of care’ testing kit which enables them to determine the best treatment for a patient in minutes.
The treatment involves a nose and mouth swab which gives almost instant data to doctors.
Knowing who has the virus is allowing them to direct specialist care to those most in need - and isolate them from those who do not have it.
It is also helping free-up beds, amid a doubling of flu admissions compared to a year ago.
Mickey Jachuck, the hospital’s clinical director of emergency medicine, said that without the test, it would be harder to maintain service levels.
He said: “We are still seeing significant pressures on emergency care but we are coping reasonably well.
“Certainly, without the ability to test patients as quickly and provide treatment and isolation for those that need it, we would certainly struggle a lot more than we have been.”
The number of emergency admissions for flu at the hospital in December was 42 - twice as many the same month in 2016.
Nationally, around 5,000 people were admitted to hospitals in England with flu in the first week of January.
Health experts say there are three particularly devastating strains circulating.
Mr Jachuck said: “Over the past few weeks we have started to see many more people becoming seriously unwell with seasonal flu, many of which have required emergency hospital admission.
“Thanks to the advice of our lead microbiologist Mr Richard Ellis and the support of our pathology team, we have been able to invest in a new ‘point of care’ testing kit for the virus.
“Previously, a lab test to diagnose seasonal flu would take around five hours to receive a result. This new technology means the process now takes less than half an hour and is something we can do right here in the emergency department and get a result almost straight away.
“This means we can begin treatment for patients much sooner and, importantly, we can isolate any patients who may be carrying the flu virus into appropriate side rooms so that we prevent the virus from spreading to other vulnerable patients.
He added: “Whilst seasonal flu can be unpleasant, if you are otherwise fit and healthy it will usually clear up on its own with good self-care, over the counter medication from your pharmacist and by getting plenty of rest, fluids and by keeping yourself warm.
“For those people who are at more serious risk, the flu vaccine is the best protection we have and I would strongly urge people to get their free flu vaccine from their GP as soon as possible.”
Flu is most dangerous for people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, children and adults with an underlying health condition, particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease.