UK parliament musicians protest london
Musicians perform near the houses of Parliament during a protest highlighting their inability to perform live or work during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, London, Britain, October 6, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

London: Britain’s national COVID-19 testing system was facing 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 the National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace programme, which has already suffered setbacks including a technical glitch that delayed the reporting of 15,000 positive results. Roche said the delay in dispatching some of its diagnostic products to the NHS was caused by unforeseen problems that arose during a switch from an old warehouse to a new UK distribution centre in September.

“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,” Roche said in a statement. It said staff at the new facility were working day and night to resolve the issue as soon as possible, and that extra staff had been recruited to help.

Prioritising dispatch

“We are prioritising the dispatch of COVID-19 PCR and antibody tests and doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS,” Roche said in a statement.

Trade minister Liz Truss said the problem did not appear to be causing delays in the Test and Trace programme at this point.

“There’s no evidence that those tests have been delayed,” Truss said during an interview on Sky News.

However, British media reported that the problem was already causing disruption, with hospital managers unsure whether expected deliveries of swabs and reagents would materialise.

The BBC quoted Tom Lewis, lead clinician for pathology at North Devon District Hospital in southwest England, as saying the hospital had already sent out instructions to halt all non-urgent blood tests in the community. Lewis said the hospital would run out of swabs in three to four days if the non-urgent tests were not rationed.

NHS Test and Trace has already struggled to match government promises of a “world-beating” system, with testing capacity failing to keep up with a surge in demand in September and last week’s technical glitch meaning that contact tracing relating to 15,000 infected people was delayed.