Covid-19 high-throughput testing machine installed

It is first of five faster Covid-19 testing high-throughput molecular PCR machines to be installed

The first of five high-throughput molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) laboratory testing machines to be installed nationally as part of the National Clinical Pathology Programme providing faster Covid-19 test results is now in place at Galway University Hospitals (GUH).

The machine enables laboratories to process up to 500 swabs from patients per day, with a turnaround of approximately three hours per batch.

In the case of GUH, until now, the laboratory had been carrying out Covid-19 batch testing on two separate machines with a turnaround of up to 10 hours and a maximum of 300 tests per day.

“We will be able to return the virology and microbiology equipment we have been using to date, to carry out the tests they were used for previously,” said Dr Úna Ní Riain, Consultant Microbiologist.

“In addition, they will act as back-up for the new equipment, building resilience into the service. Also when the need to test for Covid-19 diminishes, this new equipment will allow us to carry out tests to diagnose a range of other diseases including a number that we currently have to send off-site for analysis,” she added.

GUH’s laboratory has processed almost 30,000 Covid-19 samples since March. Dr Ní Riain said the laboratory provided testing for patients in hospitals in Galway City and County, Portiuncula University Hospital and Roscommon University Hospital.

She said the staff had been “incredible throughout” and had shown “great flexibility” which meant they had been able to roster extended working days and a weekend service to turnaround Covid-19 testing as quickly as was possible.

“The new equipment is not only faster and capable of processing more tests, but it will also allow us to be more flexible when testing. Previously, we had to test in large batches of almost 100 samples at a time, but now we can test as few as 12 samples and load the machine like a conveyor belt as we receive the tests throughout the day. We can even programme the equipment to skip ahead to any urgent tests in the process queue,” outlined Maria Molloy, Laboratory Manager at GUH.

GUH has started to test all adult patients for Covid-19 when admitted, even those who show no symptoms. The additional capacity to meet the increased demand was “absolutely necessary at this time” and would support streaming of patients to the correct pathway, according to Chris Kane, General Manager at GUH.

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