By: J.S., STA
Hospitals across Slovenia have started or stepped up using rapid antigen testing for Covid-19 to screen staff members as a way to prepare for a weekly systemic testing. The country’s central medical centre, UKC Ljubljana, plans to carry out a round of tests at its gynaecology department first, checking for antibodies as well.
Mandatory systemic testing of healthcare staff came into force today, however the implementation of the new measure will be gradual to give hospitals and other health institutions enough time to purchase tests and come up with a testing protocol.
UKC Ljubljana is testing some 620 staff members at the gynaecology department today, with those working at the emergency department being next in line. The hospital plans to perform some 10,000 tests per week.
UKC Ljubljana director general Janez Poklukar told Radio Slovenija that the hospital will also check for antibodies in all the staff members. Those whose blood results will show that they have already had Covid-19 will not be tested in the next three months.
The rapid antigen testing will merely serve as an additional support since the hospital has otherwise opted for PCR molecular-based tests and is still waiting for the decision to be cleared by the Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, UKC Maribor medical centre launched additional rapid testing of staff today, but said it was not yet testing all its staff, which counted 3,589 at the end of September.
Periodic tests at key departments worst hit by absences due to infections have been performed once a week for a while with about 500 staff a week tested in exposed units such as Covid-19 and intensive care units.
Data presented on Friday show 275 staff at UKC Maribor were absent, including 46 doctors and 132 care staff, of whom 116 because of child care.
The Nova Gorica hospital has begun conducting tests in all the departments where there is a risk of exposure to the infected. The hospital will thus screen up to 600 staff out of a total of some 1,000, Dunja Savnik Winkler, the hospital’s medical director told the STA.
The hospital has been using rapid tests since the start of November to check for the presence of the coronavirus in critical patients and health workers who have been in contact with the infected. The hospital already bought 500 rapid antigen tests and plans to boost the supplies.
The Novo Mesto hospital has been screening its staff members with Covid-19 symptoms using molecular-based tests, however, in line with a decree on the systemic testing of healthcare staff with rapid tests, the hospital will commence rapid antigen testing this week.
The additional testing protocol will be introduced gradually, first among staff working at the department of infectious diseases. Until 7 December, the deadline set down in the decree, the hospital will be able to screen all of its staff, the hospital told the STA.
From 7 December, healthcare providers will be required to test their staff every week, with the exception being those who have already recovered from Covid-19.
Franc Vindišar, medical director of the Celje hospital, told Radio Slovenija that the hospital plans to carry out some 1,000 rapid tests per week.
Such tests have been already providing support at the hospital’s emergency department and in the case of critical patients. The hospital has also been testing staff members showing Covid-19 symptoms, those who have been in close contact with the infected and those working at a department where many infections had been confirmed.
The ministry will reimburse the cost of rapid as well as molecular tests to a certain extent – when it comes to PCR tests, the hospitals will be refunded EUR 6 per swab and EUR 55 per lab analysis, and in the case of antigen tests, they will get EUR 3 per swab and up to EUR 9 for tests.
The earmarked funds are meant to go for testing conducted between 24 October and the end of 2021. The ministry has cleared a total of 31 antigen tests of various suppliers.
The price tags of rapid tests in Slovenia raised some dust last week as RTV Slovenija reported that certain hospitals had been paying up to five times more than others at home and abroad.
UKC Ljubljana and UKC Maribor are among those hospitals that have been purchasing antigen tests at much higher prices than others, some EUR 24 per piece.
The Jesenice hospital paid even more, EUR 32, whereas the Slovenj Gradec hospital purchased tests at roughly EUR 5 apiece.