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Coronavirus staff guidance University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Pathway for processing urgent COVID-19 samples

Last updated: 28 October 2021 at 11:08


  • Routine COVID-19 PCR is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at UHB
  • Routine COVID-19 PCR has a targeted turnaround time of 24hrs – in practice the average is currently 13 hours on both sites
  • Routine COVID-19 PCR has a high daily capacity available for tests
  • UHB has limited capacity to provide a rapid 1.5 hour turnaround COVID-PCR on nasopharyngeal swabs at both the QE and the Heartlands microbiology laboratory
  • The daily capacity for the rapid urgent PCR test is limited by global kit availability and supply
  • Rapid urgent COVID-19 PCR is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on both sites


The following are the only indications for which an urgent rapid COVID-PCR test will be routinely performed:

  • Emergency admissions to ITU from ED or AMU who do not have a routine admission COVID PCR result yet in order to facilitate appropriate patient flow
  • A rapid screen is not necessary for patients with high clinical suspicion of COVID, as they should be treated as COVID regardless of NP swab result
  • Transplant donors and recipients for whom a routine PCR result will not be available in time pre-surgery
  • Emergency transfers to the ROH for trauma e.g. #NOF
  • Urgent rapid COVID-19 PCR tests should not be requested for other case scenarios unless explicitly discussed between the consultant requesting and the microbiologist on duty


QEHB site

  • The consultant or transplant co-ordinator should contact the laboratory on ext. 16534 between 08:00 and 16:00, and ext. 16537 at all other times to request a rapid Cepheid COVID PCR
  • The laboratory will give them a 3 digit urgent number code to clearly write on the form alongside the patient details for rapid identification in the laboratory
  • Samples should be packaged in category B packaging as per routine COVID swabs and sent down to the laboratory urgently
  • Results will be visible on PICS once available
  • Currently the assay is running 24/7
  • The turnaround time should be 1 hour 15 mins from receipt in the laboratory

Heartlands, Good Hope and Solihull sites

  • A consultant should contact the laboratory on 07779 551218 and arrange for the sample to be tested. If there is difficulty in contacting the telephone number, the consultant should contact Heartlands Hospital switchboard and ask for the on-call technical microbiologist
  • Samples should be packaged as a category B sample and the box labelled from the outside (URGENT SARS-2 SAMPLE)
  • Samples from Heartlands Hospital should be delivered as soon as possible to the laboratory using the porter system
  • Samples from Good Hope Hospital should be sent by a taxi. It is the responsibility of the requesting consultant to arrange for the taxi and NOT to use routine hospital transport systems
  • Results when ready will immediately be available on ICE/Concerto. If requested, result can be telephoned to the requesting consultant if they provide a telephone number
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