Expect delays in receiving Covid-19 swab test results in S'pore, say lab officials

The daily average number of swabs Parkway Laboratories received the past two weeks were almost double that from a month ago. PHOTO: PARKWAY LABORATORIES

SINGAPORE - People waiting for Covid-19 swab test results may experience delays beyond 24 hours because laboratories are experiencing a surge in the number of swabs being sent in daily, said Parkway Laboratories chief executive Daniel Tan.

He said the daily average number of swabs received in the past two weeks was almost double that from a month ago. He did not reveal the figures as they were deemed to be sensitive.

Dr Tan said the machines processing the swabs were fully utilised and lab technicians had been working 16 to 18 hours daily since two weeks ago, with some even volunteering to return on their days off.

He said: "This has been the busiest I've been since I joined in 2017. It's even busier than the first wave last year as we did not have as much testing capacity then."

Parkway Laboratories, which comes under IHH Healthcare Singapore, currently processes swab tests for more than 200 general practitioner clinics, four IHH Healthcare hospitals, some nursing homes, prisons and migrant worker dormitories.

The surge in testing comes as Singapore moves aggressively to curb community transmissions of Covid-19 with mass testing and swabbing taking place at many places, including at Swab and Send Home (Sash) clinics.

Other independent labs such as Innoquest Diagnostics are also swamped, resulting in delays for even the most urgent cases.

It has received 15,000 to 20,000 swabs on average daily since May 17, a threefold spike from the 5,000 to 7,000 received on average daily in April.

Innoquest Diagnostics processes Covid-19 swab tests for more than 500 general practitioner clinics, a few private and public hospitals as well as swabbing sites.

Its chief executive Ginny Foo said the increased workload may delay swab test results for clinically urgent cases from six hours to up to 12 hours.

Results obtained for less urgent swabs, which usually take 12 hours, may now take up to 24 hours.

Innoquest Diagnostics has received between 15,000 and 20,000 Covid-19 swab test samples on average daily since May 17. PHOTO: INNOQUEST DIAGNOSTICS

The duration does not factor in processing time taken for swabbing, logistics and the upload of test results to the National Electronic Health Record system.

As part of an effort to cope with the increased workload, labs told ST they were rushing to get more machines and hire more staff.

Dr Tan said that Parkway Laboratories, which has been operating 24 hours a day for seven days a week since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, has increased manpower to run the lab at full staffing at all hours, even at nights and on weekends, which is dealing with as many swabs being sent in as weekdays.

The lab has also mobilised all staff, including those in administration, to help with swab registration duties. Despatch drivers now double up to resupply clinics with new Covid-19 test kits when they make their collection rounds.

Boxes of Covid-19 swab tests are sorted according to the indication or purpose and are waiting to go into the processing room. PHOTO: PARKWAY LABORATORIES

Parkway Laboratories has also introduced rigorous measures to ensure swabs that are clinically significant are moved to the front of the queue and processed first.

Clinically urgent swabs are those indicated by an ordering doctor as being a suspected case or a symptomatic patient with acute respiratory illness, said Dr Tan.

"Clinically urgent swabs are put in the priority queue so that we can get results very quickly and any Covid-19 positive results can be acted upon swiftly," he said.

At Innoquest Diagnostics, Ms Foo said she has increased manpower and is considering bringing in more analysers. This will lead to increased testing capacity and faster turnaround time for results.

She said: "We need to recruit more medical technologists to perform tests as well as despatch and van drivers to go collect the samples. We are hiring very aggressively now.

"It's absolutely all hands on deck to meet the nation's testing needs at this moment."

The Straits Times has contacted the Ministry of Health for comment.

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