UK’s COVID-19 testing system hit by Roche supply problems
Roche said the situation would improve in the coming days
Britain’s COVID-19 testing system, already struggling with a surge in new cases, was facing more disruption on Wednesday after Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said problems at a new warehouse had delayed the dispatch of some products.
Roche is one of the main suppliers of diagnostic tests to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) test and trace programme, which only days ago was hit by a technical glitch that delayed the reporting of 15,000 positive results.
The Swiss company said in a letter to UK customers that a switch from an old warehouse to a new distribution centre had caused unforeseen issues, leading to “a very significant drop in our processing capacity” that it was unable to fix immediately.
The timing of Roche’s problems could hardly be worse for Britain as new coronavirus infections surge. Experts said the disruption was also affecting diabetes tests, magnesium level tests and other diagnostic materials.
Allan Wilson, Head of the Institute of Biomedical Science, said Roche and NHS staff were working very hard to plug urgent gaps, including by driving around the country to distribute supplies manually, but that would not be tenable for long.
“We can only do that for a few days before it really starts to impact on our ability to do diagnostic tests,” he said.
In its letter, Roche said the situation would improve in the coming days “and we are confident that we will see large step changes in the coming weeks”.
“The current backlog is likely to temporarily affect and disrupt services and, unfortunately, at this stage we may not be able to provide a solution to avoid such a temporary disruption,” it said in the letter seen by Reuters.
“Our customers’ contingency plans may need to be activated and we are working with them to help this happen.”
Wilson said signs of the problems had emerged last week and scheduled deliveries of certain products had not taken place, leading some hospitals and laboratories to ration test kits.
“The frustration is that they seem to have a warehouse full of consumables but are unable to ship them because the logistics system put in place to manage the extraction and identification of consumables and picking them to send them to customers has failed,” Wilson told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He said supplies for blood gas analysers had been affected, which could turn into a significant issue as they were crucial for the treatment of patients with respiratory illnesses, i