New ‘Lighthouse’ laboratory to strengthen regional resilience in fight against COVID-19

18 September 2020

Ambitious plans for a multi-million pound regional ‘COVID’ hub – the first of its kind in the country - have today been unveiled by Newcastle Hospitals and Newcastle City Council.

Serving the North East, north Cumbria, Yorkshire and Humber, the laboratory will deliver high-volume, rapid turnaround of COVID-19 tests, with the capacity to process up to 80,000 tests a day if needed.

This significant development, approved by Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, will strengthen the region’s resilience and response in controlling coronavirus and create 1,100 public sector jobs on Tyneside.

As well as creating an integrated system for increased testing and tracing – which will include a new lab based in Gateshead - the hub will also include a specialist innovation lab at the Helix site in Newcastle, tailored to develop new approaches for the next stage of COVID science and beyond. This will place the region in a strong position to prepare for future infectious disease risks.

The integrated COVID hub will link testing and results into clinical data systems used by hospitals and will support NHS Test and Trace, as well as increasing local resilience for rapid outbreak response.

The partnership between the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle City Council, together with public health teams, local universities and industry, is the first of its kind in the UK and could establish a blueprint for other parts of the country.

The project will build upon Newcastle Hospitals’ international reputation for life sciences and innovation, and its strong track record for delivering projects on this scale.

Chief Executive Dame Jackie Daniel said: “This is an exciting and important investment in the North East, which will create 1,100 public sector jobs.

“The collective effort in combating the pandemic to date has been outstanding and owes much to the excellence of services, partnership working and also the public playing their part in minimising the spread of the virus.

“We know that effective testing and tracing will continue to be a key pillar of the national strategy to protect the NHS and save lives, as well as supporting the economy. Our integrated Covid hub will be a major step in ensuring the North East is in the strongest position to deal with the ongoing pressures of the pandemic, including responding to any future waves.”

Expected to launch in December, the dedicated hub will include:

  • An industrial-scale Lighthouse laboratory on the River Tyne at Baltic Park in Gateshead, processing up to 80,000 tests per day for the population of the North East, north Cumbria and Yorkshire. Results reporting will be integrated into NHS Test and Trace and electronic care records, so they are immediately available to individuals who have been tested, as well as public health and clinical staff.

The lab will supplement and work closely with existing NHS labs across North East, Yorkshire and Humber to optimise capacity and rapid turnaround of results.

  • Support for integrated management, analytics, tracing and response for the North East to help identify patterns of spread and outbreaks, working with partner councils and NHS Trusts to deliver optimal COVID control as close to home as possible – and developing links with partners in Yorkshire and Humber for similar, integrated provision.
  • A dedicated innovation lab with the flexibility to accommodate new technologies and infection control processes in developing the next stage of Covid science, including a specialist lab at Newcastle Helix tailored for the commercialisation of innovative scientific discovery.

As one of 11 Good Practice Network councils contributing to national thinking on testing and data policies, Newcastle City Council has worked closely with Newcastle Hospitals to develop the proposal for this regional facility.

Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council said: “Throughout this pandemic the strength of the partnerships has shone brightly and the co-operation between our hospitals, council and universities has seen this innovative plan develop quickly.

“Crucially this investment will bring 1,100 high-quality jobs to Tyneside; once again highlighting that Newcastle is a modern, digital first city that has world class infrastructure, talent and technology to deliver these developments.

“We know that there are difficult times ahead and many sectors across the region will be impacted; providing new opportunities to our residents and investment in the city are key aspects of our recovery from the pandemic.

“Newcastle is an ambitious, resilient city and announcements like this will help our city bounce back from the pandemic.”

Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s Director of Public Health, said: “The integrated Covid hub for the region will bring together the expertise of public health, the NHS and our universities. Throughout COVID-19 this city and our region have built on the strong partnerships which already exist.

“These facilities and the people who will work within them will play a critical role not only in dealing with COVID-19 and any second wave but also to support work to identify, prevent and deal with any future pandemics.”

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