Testing times: The laboratory helping Irish sport return to play

Testing times: The laboratory helping Irish sport return to play
Ed Donovan of Advanced Medical Services, Little Island, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins

RETURNING to play after the lockdown is a process that’s producing a variety of questions — for athletes, for sports organisations, for spectators. Everyone, in other words.

One of the key questions revolves around the virus itself, and a lot of answers radiate out from the most basic query of all: who’s infected?

That’s where Advanced Medical Services come in. The firm based in Little Island, Cork, is working with the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU to run Covid-19 testing on players. How did they get into that line of work?

Ed Donovan of AMS explains that it began with heart screening — tragedies such as the sudden death of athletes such as Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen made testing for possible heart defects a priority for sports bodies.

“We work with all the sporting organisations, with cardiac screening the main service we’ve provided for the last number of years, having begun 10 years ago.

“We work with GAA clubs, soccer clubs, rugby clubs — it all started with screening intercounty players with the GPA going back to 2011, and then it trickled down over the years to provide that screening to clubs and schools as well.

“The WGPA is another organisation we work with — not specifically cardiac screening for them so much as a general sports health screening.

“We’ve worked with all sporting sectors, really, and it’s been busy and growing year on year. The demand for services had increased, and with the cardiac screening we’ve had a good number of cases of people who didn’t even know they had an underlying condition until we picked up that condition in our screening.

“That led to them getting intervention — through a device, medication, procedure, or whatever was necessary under cardiology supervision, and that’s the main thrust of what we’ve been doing for the last few years.”

For the last few months, everyone’s focus has been on the virus, understandably.

“We’d always be looking at what we provide in terms of services,” says Donovan.

“We’d be looking at what new services we should potentially be providing.

“We work with a lot of corporate organisations as well, and the whole issue of returning to work was something we were looking at — there’s obviously going to come a time when a lot of people are going to have to return to work, so we had a look at what testing was available out there.

“While we looked at that, though, we realised soccer and rugby were also looking at how they could get their players back training and playing. We engaged with the sporting organisations to let them know how Covid-19 testing would work.”

The experience gathered providing heart screening stood to AMS: “We have good experience when it comes to working with clubs and large numbers — how to book online, consent forms, registration, all of those issues.

“We have nurses and doctors to do testing and we work with a private laboratory when it comes to general health screening — our system is connected to theirs, so if we have a blood sample or a Covid-19 swab, that can be sent to the lab and automatically imported into each person’s record.

“The infrastructure was set up and we made those main sporting organisations aware we were able to do Covid-19 testing, and within a couple of weeks, they were back to us to say they were interested.”

Testing times: The laboratory helping Irish sport return to play
Ed Donovan of Advanced Medical Services, Little Island, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins

The familiarity also helped, he adds.

“The sports organisations know the way we work and how we deliver our services on site.

“For us it’s a matter of making it as convenient as possible for players. They don’t need to go to different individual places, but they can book their appointment, sign their consent form — which is important to do when making the appointment given the issues in this area — and then we remind them of their appointment.

“We also liaise with the administrator or team manager within each club, obviously, but we also deal with the team doctor because it’s a medical test. We work closely with all of them.”

How long is the wait for results?

“We’re looking at 48 to 72 hours — we aim for 48 and it wouldn’t be longer than 72.”

The day we spoke news broke of Irishman Conor McKenna’s ‘false positive’ Covid test in Australia.

Donovan stressed the need for the “highest possible standards” with testing.

“With a medical test or screening, there’s always a challenge there. With any of those tests or screenings, nothing is absolutely bulletproof in terms of false positives, false negatives, and so on.

“For us, it’s about testing that’s science-

backed, working with a fully accredited lab that’s analysing in accordance with the highest possible standards.

“And we obviously tell organisations when they’re booking those tests that there’s always a potential for false positives and false negatives — you just try to minimise that as much as


“But that’s the nature of doing screening.”

Busy times, then. They’ve been working with teams in the League of Ireland on their return to training, last week they were covid testing for the IRFU — specifically in Ulster and Connacht doing tests.

“Since Covid hit, there was a definite hit on our health and cardiac screening for corporate clients, not surprisingly. It’s been quieter in that regard even though there are still some necessary services we provide.

“The last couple of weeks have been busier, though, even as we deliver on these services. The other day we had one of our first companies so that’s starting off again, and we’re taking a lot of inquiries. The other work we’d be doing usually we’d expect to get back to in the coming weeks and months, but for the moment we’re focused on the Covid issue.

“And other areas being quieter have allowed us to focus on that.”

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