Concerns over coronavirus testing kits following supply chain breakdown

A medical professional holding blood tests
The Canary

Concerns have been raised over the supply of vital testing materials for a range of conditions, including coronavirus (Covid-19), following a supply chain problem with pharmaceutical giant Roche.

Significant drop

On 6 October, Roche said it had experienced a “very significant drop” in its processing capacity due to a problem with its Sussex distribution centre, the only one in the UK. It’s been reported that the shortage includes vital reagents, screening kits, and swabs.

In addition to providing these chemicals and parts used in coronavirus tests, Roche also provides materials for a wide range of procedures including blood and urine tests, as well as diabetic care. Roche warned the issues with the supply chain may not be resolved for two to three weeks, but it’s prioritising the dispatch of coronavirus and antibody tests.

In a letter seen by the PA news agency, the company told customers to activate their local contingency plans “and recommend that you look to prioritise essential services only”.

The letter adds:

In September we moved from our old warehouse to a new automated warehouse capable of much higher volumes.

However, during the transition we encountered some unforeseen issues and a very significant drop in our processing capacity. Since then we have worked around the clock to prioritise and manage orders as well as increase this capacity.

PA understands the issue has not had an impact on coronavirus tests at this point. However, concerns have been raised about the future supply of tests for the virus and the impact on making diagnoses and monitoring in other aspects of medicine.

Regret

An NHS spokesperson said:

Roche has alerted hospitals to an issue with their supply chain, and they will be working urgently to resolve this issue.

A Roche spokesperson said:

We deeply regret that there has been a delay in the dispatch of some products and apologise to any of our customers who have been impacted.

As well as extending working hours, we have recruited extra staff and, where they can, our dedicated teams on the ground are working with customers to distribute products and minimise service disruption.

We will continue to provide regular updates to our customers and we are doing everything possible to return to routine operations.

We are prioritising the dispatch of coronavirus PCR and antibody tests and doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS.

Nurse takes coronavirus swab
The shortage is said to include testing kits (Joe Giddens/PA)

Strain

Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham and health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, expressed her concern about the impact of the issue while the healthcare system was under “incredible strain”.

She said:

These reports will leave many people incredibly anxious, and rightly so.

This does not only have serious consequences for our ability to test for coronavirus, but others with potentially incredibly serious illnesses will also be unable to get the blood tests or screening they need.

She added:

Our NHS must be able to treat everyone, whatever their illness, and Ministers must do everything in their power to resolve this issue with the supply chain as quickly as possible.

We cannot allow this virus to get further out of control, as well as further risking the health of thousands of individuals whose diagnosis of serious illness could either be delayed or go undetected.

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