UK’s Covid testing kits under threat as diagnostics firm Roche suffers supply break down
A technical glitch at a major diagnostics firm has put the supply of coronavirus swabs under threat.
Pharmaceutical giant Roche said problems with a move to a new warehouse led to a “very significant drop” in its processing capacity.
The shortage includes vital chemicals, screening kits and swabs used in coronavirus testing kits.
The supply of materials for blood and urine tests, used to test for a variety of other illnesses including cancer and heart conditions, is also under threat.
Roche said the problem was caused by an “unforeseen” hiccup with an automated distribution system and may take up to two weeks to fix, prompting the Swiss company to advise NHS trusts to “prioritise essential services only”.
One NHS trust in Devon has already advised GPs to stop non-urgent blood tests.
Roche said: “We deeply regret that there has been a delay in the dispatch of some products.
“We are prioritising the dispatch of Covid-19 PCR (swabs) and antibody tests and doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS.”
The affected warehouse in Newhaven, Sussex, is the company’s only distribution centre in the UK.
Institute of Biomedical Science president Allan Wilson, who represents the UK’s laboratories, said Roche was a significant supplier of diagnostic tests in Britain.
Mr Wilson told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “We could potentially have a drop in capacity.
“We’re not sure of the duration of this. If it’s days, we’ll probably have minimal impact, if it’s weeks, then yes, that puts considerable impact on our ability to deliver tests across the UK.”
Mr Wilson added that the automated system was similar to that used by Amazon in its distribution centres.
He said: “It doesn’t seem to have worked at the first time of asking.”
The breakdown in the supply chain has already sent shockwaves through the NHS, with clinicians fearing it will exacerbate existing shortages in supplies of diagnostics equipment, both for coronavirus and other diseases.
A letter sent by Roche to NHS trusts advised them to “activate [their] local contingency plans” and “look to prioritise essential services only”.