The NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Virology team have just achieved a major milestone in the fight against COVID.

The NHS Scotland Regional Laboratory (West), situated at Gartnavel, has processed its one-millionth sample – after one of the most challenging years any NHS staff can remember.

Since its commissioning last December, it has been working seven days a week, and by mid-January it was operating 24 hours a day Monday-Friday and 8am-8pm Saturday and Sunday, with the capability of switching to 24-7 testing if required.

The lab, which now has a staff of 73 WTE with a head count of 81, processes an average of 32,000 samples a week, and more recently that number has topped 35,000.  

Rob Gardiner, General Manager for Laboratory Medicine with NHSGGC, states: “I am immensely proud of the entire Virology team. They have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic, persistently under extreme pressure, and have gone above and beyond in their duties. What they have achieved is truly remarkable. 

“Building and commissioning a lab normally takes 12-18 months, but this team have achieved this in less than four. They are critical in the fight against COVID and an integral part of the test and trace system. Without their efforts, and others around the country, it would not be possible to deliver the world-class service that we provide.”

The West hub, located in the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service building at Gartnavel, is one of three Regional Laboratory Hubs set up by the Scottish Government to fully exploit the capacity for testing across the country. It has been essential in our response to COVID, processing thousands of PCR tests from across the West of Scotland.

Rob Gardiner went on to say: “This facility and its team are the best-performing in the UK, using highly automated Amplitude systems. They consistently demonstrate the lowest error rate in the country, which is testimony to their professionalism, dedication and commitment. As well as these incredibly high levels of accuracy, they’ve managed to markedly improve our turn-around times.” 

This was particular important when, in January, responsibility for processing COVID tests from Scotland’s care homes transitioned from UK Government laboratories to the new regional hubs. At that point, the need for speed and accuracy became critical.

At the West Regional Hub, 99.9% of samples are turned around within 24 hours, with 90% being processed within 6-12 hours.

Mr Gardner further puts that into context: “The 24-hour mark is the universal (gold) standard for labs, so hitting that 99.9% mark is impressive in itself. But to achieve 90% within 6-12 hours is a huge achievement – and testament to the whole team, and its outstanding leadership.”

Pamela Saunders, Compliance Manager, is one of those leaders. She is very clear who is responsible for the huge achievements of the Gartnavel lab.

The team here are absolutely fantastic,” she said. “I’ve been watching them develop, and it must be one of the proudest aspects of this project. They’re such a young team – many of them completely new to the profession – but they’ve been so enthusiastic and adaptable.”

Ann Hawthorn, Operations Manager, added: “How they have just got on with things has been phenomenal. In mid-January we introduced 24-hour working Monday to Friday, and even then, when their workload effectively doubled, they took it all in their stride.

“It’s the staff who have made this possible – it’s such a brilliant team. They’ve all been so keen to help, and their enthusiasm has kept us all going.”

Janis Heaney, NHS National Services Scotland Associate Director of COVID Testing Operations, said: “This year has been challenging for our test sites, laboratories and contact tracing teams as they work flat out to stop the spread of the COVID-19. The West Regional Hub has made an outstanding effort as part of our national response and I’m extremely grateful for all the work that they have done to keep others safe.”