Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche apologised on Wednesday for a supply chain failure that could delay the processing of coronavirus and other diagnostic tests across Britain.
The delays come against a backdrop of concern about rising numbers of Covid-19 cases and pressure on the government to introduce tougher restrictions to curb the spread.
The state-run National Health Service (NHS) is already struggling with the pandemic’s impact on waiting times and access to services such as cancer treatment and elective surgery.
Roche blamed the delay on “unforeseen issues” in its move to a new national UK distribution centre in southeast England last month.
“We deeply regret that there has been a delay in the dispatch of some products and apologise to any of our customers who have been impacted,” it said in a statement.
“The teams at the National Distribution Centre are working exceptionally hard, day and night, to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”
It added: “We are prioritising the dispatch of Covid-19 PCR (diagnostic) and antibody tests and doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS.”
The latest setback comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday blamed out-of-date software for nearly 16,000 positive tests going missing from official figures.
He said a “legacy computer system” at the public health agency that processed lab results caused 15,841 cases between September 25 and October 2 to be left off daily case numbers.
The government has set a target of 500,000 tests per day by the end of October but that could now be in doubt, suggested Xiaojun Wang, from the University of Bristol.
Wang, a professor of operations management, said the supply problem could have a “significant impact” and lead to a shortage of swabs, screening kits and reagents in labs.
“It is difficult to contain infections and curb the increasing trend without increasing testing capability and tracing the contacts of the confirmed coronavirus cases in a timely manner,” he said.
“The supply problems will also affect other NHS services (eg diagnosis and testing other illnesses), which have already been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
More than 42,000 people have died in the coronavirus outbreak in Britain — the worst toll in Europe.