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Diagnostics COVID-19, Laboratory management, Profession

Planning in a Pandemic

Graham Danks, Group Operational Manager, Black Country Pathology Services, Black Country, UK
Running a pathology service during the pandemic has felt like being amid the muck and bullets in a war zone – physically and emotionally draining. Not only have we had to cope with the huge regional challenges of supporting a COVID-19 testing regimen but, prior to the pandemic, we had been working on a major initiative to reorganize pathology services in the Midlands region of England.

This was a significant program to support the setup of a new laboratory network for four National Health Service (NHS) acute trusts, so a key decision at the outset of the pandemic was, “How do we proceed with this?” We decided to focus on the microbiology element of the lab network planning, pressing ahead to secure a go-live across the trusts with a CliniSys enterprise laboratory information management system.

The resource needs and day-to-day demands of COVID-19 testing have been immense. To date, throughout the regional network, we have had to support 17 separate validation and verification methodologies for new analytical platforms. In a normal year, we undertake about seven such exercises.

We are now analyzing over 1,500 COVID-19-related tests a day.

I am proud of our teams, both what they have achieved and the collaborative way in which they have worked across the network. The whole workforce has pulled together; we have increased our testing capacity to a level where we are now analyzing over 1,500 COVID-19-related tests a day. I am reluctant to praise any individual when everyone has shown such tremendous dedication, but our microbiology service lead, Susan Lovegrove, has done an exceptional job. What she and her team have achieved – merging services during lockdown while going above and beyond the demands of the pandemic – needs celebrating.

We have also had to fight to ensure our resources are as robust as possible – but, at a national level in terms of NHS England and NHS Improvement, we have been well-supported in our capital bids and requests for equipment.

Throughout the past 10 months, I’ve experienced a fair amount of personal impact and strain. Along with other colleagues, I’ve not taken leave or been able to support quality time with my family. I have often worked 12-hour days or weekends to sort out issues at short notice. I recently moved to a home with a bigger garden so I could enjoy time gardening and growing vegetables but, because of work commitments, that has not been possible. Likewise, many other staff have made sacrifices in their personal time to support pathology.

The legacy of what we are going through now is that we will have a very robust service going forward – and a laboratory network that knows how to work as a team. If there was any doubt in the past, certainly no one can doubt the value of pathology now.

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About the Author
Graham Danks

Group Operational Manager at Black Country Pathology Services, Black Country, UK.

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