The Taoiseach has said global shortages in the supply of materials needed for processing Covid-19 tests will add further delays to the process.
It comes as GPs and others have expressed concerns about existing delays in many people getting tests results back, sometimes up to 10 days or more after the test was conducted.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar echoed the views of others, including Dr Cillian De Gascun, chair of the HSE’s Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group, that testing was being hampered by a global shortage of reagents.
“The current cause of delay is a shortage of reagents. We hope to address that, but then there may be a shortage of something else. We have to be honest about that — we will hit delays,” Mr Varadkar said.
Some 30,213 tests had already been carried out here by Tuesday evening, which compares favourably by international standards, but many are still awaiting results.
“In Ireland, we’ve decided as a country to do a lot of tests. We’re in the top tier of countries in the world when it comes to number of tests we’re doing. That’s the right thing to do in terms of containing the virus. But we are running into difficulties and we need to be honest with people and frank about that.
“There is a global shortage to testing kits, there’s a shortage of reagents, and we also need the laboratory capacity. So we are going to have bumps in the road where there are delays at particular points in time,” the Taoiseach said.
The HSE also apologised to those still waiting for test results.
A spokesperson said: “Testing Centres have been open today, as needed, and have performed in excess of 2,000 tests across the country.
The HSE now has a plentiful supply of swabbing kits and patient volumes being referred for swabbing can easily be processed by existing testing centres.
The HSE echoed the views of the Taoiseach and others regarding the “challenges in terms of securing supplies of reagent for testing laboratories” and with major suppliers having to ration supplies across the world.
“We are currently exploring the procurement of reagent from international sources,” the HSE spokesperson said. “In addition we continue to bring on additional laboratories, some with different reagents. This week the HSE Public Analyst Laboratory at Cherry Orchard and a Department of Agriculture laboratory have come on-line bringing additional capacity.
“We apologise to all those waiting for test results and we wish to assure the public that we are making every endeavour to improve turnaround times within the current international constraints.
“We continue to prioritise testing of healthcare workers and in patients in acute hospitals and residential facilities. Acknowledging the delay in testing we are beginning direct contact tracing of high-risk groups in advance of test results.”
Efforts have been made to address the shortage in the materials needed for reading tests, but the scale of testing required around the world has far outstripped supply.
Here, Michelle Hynes, Commercial Director of Shannon-based REAGECON said the company had been asked by a number of hospitals whether they could provide it, but that the company does not manufacture the specific type of reagent used in Covid-19 testing.