Healthcare staff in North Devon are among the first people in Devon and Cornwall to be tested to see if they have had Covid-19.

The Peninsula Pathology Network, a partnership of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s clinical commissioning groups and trusts, is now using NHS laboratories to provide antibody tests which tell whether someone has had the virus that causes Covid-19 in the past.

Five hospitals in Devon and Cornwall, including North Devon District Hospital, will be offering tests to healthcare staff in the coming weeks.

Testing for a limited number of patients is also under way, with more due to be tested as lab capacity increases.

A spokesman for Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust said: “We are beginning to offer antibody testing to staff across the Trust in a planned and measured way, in order to maintain laboratory capacity.

“Staff are tested in one of two ways. By work area, where a specimen taker will attend staff members’ usual work areas and undertake testing of any who wish to participate, or staff can attend a pre-bookable clinic appointment.”

Ann James, Chief Executive Officer of University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and chair of the Peninsula Pathology Network, said: “This is another example of NHS partners across the peninsula working well together and this type of testing will begin to tell us how many people have had the virus in a given area.

“We know that not everyone who has had the virus was swabbed when they were symptomatic, so this data will be useful in shaping the future management of the pandemic.”

Unlike the swab tests which establish whether someone currently has the virus, the antibody tests involves giving a blood sample.

Staff can have the test even if they have had a previous positive Covid-19 swab test result, but it is not formally available to the public at this stage.

The network is currently carrying out around 1,000 tests each day, and it is hoped that by the end of the month that will have increased to 4,000.

Although a positive test result confirms an individual has had the virus, there is currently no evidence to show if it offers the person any level of immunity from future infection.