GUH lab gets new PCR machine for faster coronavirus testing

galway daily lab equipment pcr machine uhg hospital galway
From left to right: Ann Cosgrove, Chief Operations Officer, Saolta University Hospital Group; Dr Úna Ní Riain, Consultant Microbiologist and Chris Kane, General Manager, Galway University Hospitals with the new high-throughput molecular PCR machine for COVID-19 testing at Galway University Hospitals.

The laboratory at Galway University Hospitals has started testing for Covid using a new PCR machine which is faster than the two machines that were previously being used.

The new machine means the lab will be able to process up to 500 swabs from patients per day, with a turnaround of approximately three hours per batch.

Until now the laboratory was carrying out testing on two separate machines with a turnaround of up to ten hours and a maximum of 300 tests per day.

Joanne King, Chief Medical Scientist (Virology) using the new high-throughput molecular PCR machine for COVID-19 testing in the laboratory at Galway University Hospitals.

“The new equipment is not only faster and capable of processing more tests, it will also allow us to be more flexible when testing,” said Maria Molloy, Laboratory Manager at GUH.

“Previously we had to test in large batches of almost 100 samples at a time, but now we can test as few as 12 samples and load the machine like a conveyor belt as we receive the tests throughout the day.

“We can even programme the equipment to skip ahead to any urgent tests in the process queue.”

From left to right: Joanne King, Chief Medical Scientist (Virology); Maria Molloy, Laboratory Manager; and Dr Úna Ní Riain, Consultant Microbiologist with the new high-throughput molecular PCR machine for COVID-19 testing.

Five of these new machines will be installed in hospitals around the country and GUH has received the first one.

Dr Úna Ní Riain, Consultant Microbiologist said that the laboratory has processed almost 30,000 COVID-19 samples since March.

“We provide testing for patients in hospitals in Galway City and County, Portiuncula University Hospital and Roscommon University Hospital,” she said.

“The staff have been incredible throughout and have shown great flexibility which means we have been able to roster extended working days and a weekend service to turnaround Covid testing as quickly as possible. We are currently recruiting more staff in order to maintain the service going forward.

“We will be able to return the virology and microbiology equipment we have been using to date, to carry out the tests they were used for previously. In addition, they will act as back-up for the new equipment, building resilience into the service.

“Also when the need to test for COVID-19 diminishes, this new equipment will allow us to carry out tests to diagnose a range of other diseases including a number that we currently have to send off site for analysis.” 

Chris Kane, General Manager, Galway University Hospitals said that patients who come to the hospital with symptoms which are clinically suspicious of COVID-19 are tested and cared for as if they have the virus until they receive their test results.

“With the new equipment we will know if the patients have the virus much sooner and this will help us to plan their care and make sure that they are admitted to the appropriate ward,” she said.

“We have started to test all adult patients for COVID-19 when they are admitted, even those who show no symptoms. The additional capacity to meet the increased demand is absolutely necessary at this time and will support streaming of patients to the correct pathway.

“Huge credit goes to the laboratory staff for installing the new equipment and continuing to process not just COVID-19 but the 1.2 million tests per month that are carried out in the laboratory.

“The pandemic has shown the wider population the importance of laboratory staff and the work that they do and this recognition is long overdue. The laboratory is a core function of the hospital and their work informs every diagnosis in the hospital. 

“The new equipment is the largest machine in our virology laboratory and it meant reconfiguring space to make it fit; we are very grateful to our Maintenance Team and colleagues in HSE Estates for their support.”