One year of testing: Health Board testing lab marks first anniversary in fight against COVID

The NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Virology team ined up and ready for boosters.

By Lucy Ashton

The NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Virology team have played a key role in the battle against COVID, with the team marking one year since they joined the fight.

The NHS Scotland Regional Laboratory (West), situated within the Gartnavel Hospital Campus, has processed 1,344,368 samples in its first 12 months. The team are working hard ahead of an anticipated uptake in demand as a result of the emergence of the omicron variant.

Since its commissioning last December, it has been working seven days a week, and by mid-January it was operating 24 hours a day Monday-Friday and 8am-8pm Saturday and Sunday, with the capability of switching to 24-7 testing if required.

The lab, which now has some 80 staff, processes an average of 32,000 samples a week.

Rob Gardiner, General Manager for Laboratory Medicine with NHSGGC, said: “I could not be more proud of the team and everything they have achieved in the last 12 months. The team are critical in the fight against COVID and as we see infection rising due to omicron, their role in identifying cases and helping to control the spread has never been more crucial. More will be asked of the team in the weeks and months ahead and I’m incredibly grateful for their passion and commitment.”

Rob said the building and commissioning a lab normally takes between 12-18 months, but the team were up and running in less than four.

The West hub, located in the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service building at Gartnavel, is one of three Regional Laboratory Hubs set up by the Scottish Government to fully exploit the capacity for testing across the country. It has been essential in our response to COVID, processing thousands of PCR tests from across the West of Scotland.

Rob added: “This facility and its team are the best-performing in the UK, using highly automated Amplitude systems. They consistently demonstrate the lowest error rate in the country, which is testimony to their professionalism, dedication and commitment. As well as these incredibly high levels of accuracy, they’ve managed to markedly improve our turn-around times.”

This was particularly important when, in January, responsibility for processing COVID tests from Scotland’s care homes transitioned from UK Government laboratories to the new regional hubs. At that point, the need for speed and accuracy became critical.

At the West Regional Hub, 99.9% of samples are turned around within 24 hours, with 90% being processed within 6-12 hours.

Mr Gardner further puts that into context: “The 24-hour mark is the universal (gold) standard for labs, so hitting that 99.9% mark is impressive in itself. But to achieve 90% within 6-12 hours is a huge achievement – and testament to the whole team, and its outstanding leadership.”

Sophia Younis, Associate Practitioner started working at the lab in November 2020.  She said: “Over the past 12 months the workload has increased massively and ways of working has continuously changed to benefit the sample work flow and improve turn-around times.  It has been rewarding to have the opportunity to undertake COVID testing for Care Homes and support COVID testing for inpatient specimens across the West of Scotland.

“Working with great colleagues from many different backgrounds has been highly rewarding whilst working towards the same cause. All staff are made to feel very comfortable, part of the team and welcomed.”

Humza Yousaf MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, said: “I would like to thank all the staff at the West Covid Testing Hub in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde for their vital work  over the past year. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their commitment and dedication as they deal with rising numbers of cases as a result of omicron.

“The importance of testing has never been more crucial in our efforts to keep levels of transmission under control and the role they play is vital in shaping our response to the pandemic.”

Ruth Campbell, Associate Director NSS COVID-19 Response, said: “The NHS Scotland Regional Laboratory (West) was the first of Scotland’s three regional hubs for COVID-19 testing. They have all provided a backbone in supporting the people of Scotland and our essential workforces to stay safe and well.

“NSS is proud to have supported and collaborated with colleagues in the West Regional Laboratory. They’ve created an excellent facility with consistently high performance in turnaround times and getting test results out to individuals. Thanks to all the staff who help to make this happen and congratulations on an outstanding year of teamwork.”

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