Roche supply problems hit UK Covid testing regime

The supply problem reportedly affects materials needed to conduct blood tests and screening for diseases such as cancer. Keystone / Alessandro Crinari

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant, one of the main suppliers of coronavirus diagnostic tests for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), said a move to a new distribution warehouse last month was causing a delay in dispatching certain products.

This content was published on October 7, 2020 - 13:46

The company has expressed regret over the situation and said it was prioritising the dispatch of Covid-19 diagnostic and antibody tests. However, it said it could take up to two weeks to resolve the issue.

The warehouse in East Sussex in Southern England is Roche’s only distribution centre in the UK, the BBC reportedExternal link.

According to one expert who spoke to the Reuters news agency, Roche is a major supplier of reagents used in routine blood tests, in cancer diagnostics and in Covid-19 tests.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday the problem "is expected to have little to no impact on COVID testing," Reuters reported. Earlier, Trade Minister Liz Truss had made similar reassurances.

But British media have reported that hospitals were already experiencing supply problems and feared rationing might be necessary. In a letter sent to NHS trusts, Roche advised the healthcare services to “prioritise essential services only.”

The delay in supply comes as the UK experiences a rise in new coronavirus infections and other recent glitches in its test-and-trace regime, including a technical problem that delayed the reporting of some 15,000 positive test results.

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