YORK Hospitals Trust is taking on extra staff in its Covid-testing microbiology labs as it braces for a new surge of cases.

The 65-or-so staff spread across two labs in York and Scarborough are responsible for testing all the Covid swabs taken from hospital staff and patients - as well as testing for other bacteria and viral diseases, including MRSA, salmonella and HIV.

But with winter approaching and a surge of new Covid cases expected, the labs are taking on more staff - eight more in York and four in Scarborough. Staff have also done extra training.

"We could not be more prepared!" said the Trust's head biomedical scientist Lisa Mead. "Bring it on!"

All patients due to be admitted to hospital for a planned procedure such as an operation are tested for the virus first. Inpatients are also re-tested after 5-7 days in hospital.

Staff who develop symptoms can also quickly access a swab test to determine whether or not they have Covid.

The tests are a vital part of ensuring the hospital can continue to operate smoothly during the pandemic.

"We need to know whether people are positive or not," Lisa said. "It's about enabling surgery to continue."

The microbiology labs on the second floor of the hospital include a specialist 'containment level 3' lab where Lisa and her scientists check samples for the most dangerous and infectious germs - including Covid, MRSA, salmonella, HIV and hepatitis.

The lab has sealed doors and windows and is held under 'negative pressure' - the air pressure inside is slightly lower than outside, so if a door is opened, air comes in rather than going out. Air is passed through double filters, and access to the lab is closely restricted. "Nothing can escape," Lisa said.

She and her team of scientists are used to handling dangerous pathogens. What is different now is the sheer scale of what is happening.

"I never thought I would experience a pandemic, and be able to do what we're doing now for York," she said, in the second of our series of weekly interviews with frontline hospital staff. "It is a challenge, but also an experience we will never forget."