Coronavirus: Equipment shortfall brings test results down to 1,500 a day

Health service hoping to reach goal of 15,000 test results per day by mid-April

The number of Covid-19 test results being produced at laboratories around the country is 1,500 per day as a significant shortfall in testing equipment hits Ireland.

The figure is just 10 per cent of the Government's stated goal of 15,000 test results being produced per day. A Department of Health spokeswoman on Tuesday night said the goal remained and it was hoped it could be achieved by mid-April.

The level of testing was confirmed on Tuesday night by Dr Cillian De Gascun, head of the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) and chair of the State's Covid-19 expert advisory group, who blamed a global shortage in equipment for the fall-off in tests.

“Over the last week we have seen a significant fall-off in the number of tests provided because of the shortfall in global supplies, so we’re probably in or around 1,500 per day, that’s across the country,” he said.

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The figure of 1,500 contrasts with that offered by the Health Service Executive (HSE), which as recently as Sunday said that it was working through referrals "at a rate of about 5,000 per day". The difference between the two figures is because the HSE referenced swabs taken at the sampling points that have been set up around the country, rather than lab results being put out.

Testing centres

Latest figures released by the HSE show that the current rate of swabs being captured is also significantly below 5,000. In a statement released to The Irish Times on Tuesday evening, the HSE said testing centres had performed “in excess of 2,000 tests across the country” on Tuesday.

The HSE said that after two days during which some test centres were closed and hundreds of appointments were cancelled, “testing centres have been open today, as needed”.

After the supply of sampling kits ran low in recent days, the HSE said “a plentiful supply of swabbing kits and patient volumes being referred for swabbing can easily be processed by existing testing centres”.

However, the health service echoed Dr De Gascun’s views on the availability of lab supplies.

“We are experiencing challenges in terms of securing supplies of reagent for testing laboratories . . . as referenced in the international media, this is a global problem, with major suppliers having to ration supplies across the world.”

Amid reports of long delays of 10 days or more for test results, the HSE said it “apologise[S)] to all those awaiting test results and we wish to assure the public that we are making every endeavour to improve turnaround times within the current international constraints”.

Self-isolate

It reminded people that regardless of delays, symptomatic people and those awaiting results should self-isolate for 14 days.

Meanwhile, frontline staff working in hospitals have expressed concerns at delays in processing coronavirus tests for healthcare workers.

Claire Kennedy, a psychiatric nurse in a Dublin hospital, has been out of work for a week awaiting the results of a coronavirus test.

She developed symptoms such as a shortness of breath at the start of last week, and was tested on Thursday under a fast-track system for healthcare workers.

“I was tested last Thursday, so it’s five days now... I just want to get back to work,” she told The Irish Times.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said it was unacceptable frontline workers were waiting for up to a week to get test results back.

“Priority testing also makes sense for the health service, ensuring that much-needed workers aren’t simply waiting for tests, unable to provide care,” an INMO spokesman said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times