A voluntary laboratory network has launched to expand Covid-19 testing for key workers in the UK.

The Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network, started by Systems Biology Laboratory (SBL) founder and serial entrepreneur Mike Fischer, will help small laboratories convert to run antigen testing and identify Covid-19 cases among local healthcare workers.

Some of the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) machines in university and healthcare settings have already been requisitioned by the UK government, but thousands of small laboratories with the right equipment are not being used.

SBL is already running 250 to 500 tests a week for ten general practice surgeries in Oxfordshire. The facility, which has only three full-time members of staff working with two containment hoods and two real-time machines, has converted to Covid-19 testing using US Centers for Disease Control protocols.

Fischer said: “If we are going to beat this pandemic, we need to employ every resource we can to make sure that our essential health care workers can go to work safely.

“By creating an emergency network of volunteer laboratories like ours across the UK, we can quickly and efficiently create the capacity we need to deliver tens of thousands of additional tests every single day. We believe this can play a vital role in supporting the national effort, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

The Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network is being coordinated on an entirely voluntary basis and is seeking more laboratories to join the effort.

The Fischer Family Trust has made £1m of funding available to support the purchase of consumables for the tests if labs are unable to cover them.

Fischer said: “We hope existing equipment can be used in situ with qualified staff volunteering to conduct the tests. We are able to provide guidance, protocols, documentation and reporting.”