The findings of an Australian-first trial in Sydney’s south-west of a rapid PCR unit have shown that the device has the potential to have a significant impact on maximising care and safety in residential aged care settings.

During the eight-week trial – conducted at Whiddon Easton Park in Glenfield – the rapid PCR test scored a 99.1 per cent accuracy rate. Out of 116 tests completed, only one result differed from simultaneous tests being carried out in pathology labs.

“We’re very happy with the findings,” Whiddon CEO Chris Mamarelis told Australian Ageing Agenda. “We were very pleased to see that there were implications for, not only resident care, but also the workforce.”

In terms of the resident care outcomes, Mr Mamarelis said the units allowed management and staff to quickly adopt early intervention strategies such as oral antiviral treatment. “They need to be administered early, so early detection using rapid PCR means that we applied that intervention strategy quickly, so that was a big tick in that regard,” he said.

With early detection comes early containment, meaning the spread of the coronavirus can be curbed. This in turn leads to savings in outbreak costs, such as the employment of emergency cover staff.

Another big tick for the portable testing units is the speed at which they produce results. Lab-based test results can take days to be processed, resulting in critical staff members having to self-isolate while awaiting text confirmation of the results. “At the peak of the pandemic, they were isolating for six to seven days,” said Mr Mamarelis.

Chris Mamarelis

In contrast, the rapid PCR unit presents results in just 90 minutes, meaning staff can return to providing care after only a short break from duties. “That is game-changing in terms of care management [and] roster management,” said Mr Mamarelis.

“People on the frontline reported greater control, more efficiencies and that allowed them to get on with the job of managing the [Omicron] crisis,” he said. “It’s a really valuable workforce strategy – and we are desperate for workforce strategies.”

Whiddon Easton Park is a 488-bed residential aged care site with more than 700 employees. The trial began in November 2021 and continued through to January 2022.

The rapid test units are currently being rolled out in emergency National Health Service settings in the UK. While the unit is not approved for use in Australia as yet, an application with the Therapeutic Goods Administration is underway.

“We absolutely need to see these units deployed across aged care and in disability,” said Mr Mamarelis. “To me, it makes too much sense – it’s non-negotiable.”

Main image: Chris Mamarelis and operations manager Sharon Fletcher with a rapid PCR unit

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