Pioneering saliva self-sampling to keep schools, society open
In April 2020, with the UK in comprehensive national lockdown, BRC Theme Lead Professor Keith Godfrey contributed to a national discussion of a regular mass testing approach for safely easing lock down restrictions and shutting down transmission, and followed this by pioneering development of a pilot programme to determine the feasibility of such an approach.
Pulling together a unique team, including NIHR Southampton BRC behavioural science, communications and LifeLab leads, and a remarkable partnership of organisations, he successfully integrated regular, at-home saliva self-sampling with use of a laboratory test faster and cheaper than RT-PCR, with direct return of test results within 24 hours by text message, via NHS systems.
Following an initial pilot in employer settings over June and July 2020, the programme was able to deliver a second phase implementing weekly testing for students at four Aspire Community Trust schools in Southampton, spanning infant to secondary education, and at the University of Southampton.
Their work allowed fast identification and targeted control of infection in these educational institutions, helping them keep learning open for more students. The LifeLab educational materials and activities that were critical to fully engaging students with the testing and the science behind it were adapted and deployed elsewhere, including as part of Liverpool's mass testing pilot.
Learning form the first two phases directly informed national efforts to develop mass testing, and the Southampton programme is now working towards scaling the approach for larger populations.
A unique partnership spanning the Hampshire and Isle of Wight region, the programme was centred on a collaboration between the University of Southampton, Southampton City Council and the NHS, with a core team including experts in public health, social science, behavioural science, clinical data systems, education and infectious disease molecular biology, plus programme management, communications and legal professionals.