A shortage of trained laboratory technicians could seriously undermine the COVID-19 testing programme, according to the head of a technology training firm and think tank.
Andy Lord, CEO of Credersi, warns that labs are already struggling to keep up with demand for coronavirus test results, with a skills shortage likely to lead to a significant impact within months.
“There are simply not enough trained and skilled lab technicians and quality assurance technicians across the UK,” said Lord.
“This is a particularly acute problem within the COVID testing laboratory sector, which is struggling to keep up with the increasing demands on the testing system. Laboratories are understaffed and some are at crisis point; they simply cannot get enough lab technicians and QAs through the doors and into key roles.”
With the lifting of lockdown restrictions further increasing the need for COVID testing, the government should act now to avoid “crisis”, says Lord.
“At the same time [as restrictions are discontinued], if we continue to have further variant outbreaks, this will put the laboratories under severe pressure and ultimately into a crisis situation.
“This will result in test delays and a backlog in COVID tests being processed. The government and the prime minister need to commit funding from the new Office for Science & Technology Strategy and light the fuses of the tech training providers in the private sector to make technology accessible to all.”
Looking further down the line, says Lord, the issue is not so much the provision of training as it is the breadth of tech behind it.
“More and more lab technicians, for example, will need to bolt on other complementary skill sets, such as data analytics in lab testing,” he said.
“This expands the capability offering of a lab technician who can not only do lab-based testing, but also extrapolate the data sets, investigate and conclude the results.
“By devising immersive training courses in tech, science and data analytics, we are designing courses fit for industry in [the] post-COVID era, as opposed to giving them an irrelevant, outdated, off-the-shelf training package.”