Digital hospital Medbelle has announced it will be selling COVID-19 test kits to private patients at cost in an attempt to aid the NHS in its efforts to better understand the virus and to expand testing capabilities in the UK.
The kits cost £225 each, inclusive of laboratory, packaging and advisor fees. Purchases are limited to two per household to control demand, but the organisation has an option for customers to “sponsor” up to 10 tests, which will then be distributed to vulnerable individuals or key workers free of charge.
Medbelle is encouraging those in need to apply for these free tests.
WHY IT MATTERS
The at-home test kits supplied by the startup follow the RT-PCR method recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), that confirms whether a patient currently has coronavirus. It is not the same as the at-home antibody tests which are being developed.
The test involves taking a mucus sample from the nose and mouth, which the customer will self-swab and send off to a testing laboratory. It takes at least three days for the results to be processed and sent out to the patient by encrypted email.
Public Health England (PHE) and the patient’s GP are also notified of the results.
As the tests are processed in testing facilities not available to the NHS, Medbelle believes that offering private tests increases the country’s potential to gather information on COVID-19 without jeopardising public testing capacities, which could ultimately save the NHS both time and money.
In a statement, Medbelle cited that the limited testing capacity of the NHS was not just down to laboratory availability but also logistical and financial restrictions, which the organisation believes it can help combat through private testing. The report continued: “in future, should the NHS need our laboratory capacity or testing supplies, we would immediately pause or stop our service.”
THE LARGER PICTURE
In line with WHO recommendations to “test, test, test”, the UK is trying to increase its testing capabilities, with the hope of testing 25,000 cases per day by the end of April. However, stretched resources mean they have fallen short of their initial target of 10,000 per day, in spite of claiming to have the capacities to do so. This has been unfavourably compared to Germany where they are testing 500,000 people per week and their death rate is less severe.
In an effort to ease these pressures, Medbelle has already provided free tests for surgeons redeployed to the NHS and other clinical partners. In a statement, the company claimed: “we would prefer to make the test kits available at this price rather than delay and wait for a lower price,” promising to lower the cost if the market changes.
ON THE RECORD
Medbelle founder Leander de Laporte explained the motivation behind this decision in a statement: “To fight COVID-19 effectively, we need more tests to understand how the disease spreads and which measures we need to take. We are not doing this to make a profit; we want to do our best to support the NHS in these difficult times; to expand testing capacity and thereby add critical resources where they are needed.”