San Fernando General Hospital

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The PCR machine at one of the country’s six laboratories testing for COVID-19 has been down for over two weeks.

However, officials say it is expected to be back in service in early February.

Doctors from various parts of Southern Trinidad told Guardian Media that the PCR machine housed at the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) has been down since earlier this year which meant there was a protracted delay in turning around test results.

In a statement to Guardian Media yesterday, the South Western Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) confirmed the machine was not in service and the replacement part is expected to arrive soon.

The m2000 Abbott PCR bulk testing machine became inoperational on January 11.

“While it remains down, the required replacement part is expected to arrive on (or around) the 1st February 2022, from abroad to effect the repairs & return the machine to full functionality,” the statement said.

The authority said patients affected by this were primarily those on home quarantine and those in the community awaiting results.

These cases, it said, were known to the primary care health surveillance teams.

To mitigate the effects of the machine being out of order, the authority said contingencies were activated such as sending off samples to other laboratories.

“Given redundant testing capacity and activation of pre-planned contingencies, prompt support from the labs of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago, the North Central Regional Health Authority and the Trinidad Public Health Laboratory have successfully arrested and have started to reduce the samples that were initially delayed in processing,” it said.

It added that despite lengthening of processing times both newly received and historical samples are still being concurrently processed with this support and based on clinical assessment of urgency to obtain.

“Additionally, rapid testing on smaller cartridge-based PCR machines at both SWRHA and the NCRHA Laboratories also ensured urgent samples required have continued to be processed for ill patients requiring hospitalization in the parallel health care system.”

It said it also received approval on Friday to engage select Ministry of Health approved private labs to further assist in testing the remaining samples.

With this, the SWRHA said normal turnaround times should occur over the next seven to 10 days.

With these contingencies in place, the authority assured there “is no patient compromise to treatment requiring an urgent diagnosis.”

There are six laboratories used by the public sector to process COVID-19 PCR tests.

These are the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the UWI Molecular Laboratory at the School of Veterinary Medicine in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, the Medical Laboratory at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, the Sangre Grande Hospital Laboratory, the Scarborough General Hospital Laboratory, and the San Fernando General Hospital Laboratory.