No testing capacity issues at Glasgow Lighthouse laboratory, insists director

By Lucinda Cameron, PA Scotland
·4-min read

There are no issues with coronavirus testing capacity at a UK Government laboratory in Glasgow, its director has said.

Scottish ministers blamed Sunday’s late coronavirus cases report on capacity issues at the UK Government’s Lighthouse lab, but the UK Government denied there were any testing capacity problems and described the allegations as “categorically untrue”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned the 316 positive cases figure released on Sunday – significantly lower than in the previous weeks, having not been around this level since the 356 reported on September 27 – should be “treated with some caution due to a processing delay within the UK lab system”.

The laboratory is part of a network of diagnostic testing facilities at Lighthouse sites around the UK, including in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, and Alderley Park in Cheshire.

Caroline Clugston
Caroline Clugston is director of the Glasgow Lighthouse coronavirus testing facility (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Glasgow facility is hosted by the University of Glasgow at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, and it currently processes around 50,000 tests a day from across the UK though primarily from Scotland.

Carol Clugston, director of the laboratory where around 500 people work, told the PA news agency: “We don’t have problems with capacity, what we do is we report what our capacity is week to week so currently our capacity is about 50,000 tests per day.

“Across the UK network there are logistic teams that actually make sure the tests that we get sent to us are in line with our capacity so that we don’t get more than we can process or that we don’t get less, that we have unused capacity.

“Generally that works very well. It is a very complex system, we’re not involved in that but generally it works well.

“There are logistics teams that work out what samples should go where to make sure we are using the capacity right across the UK.

“I don’t think we’re finding any problems with capacity, if anything at the weekend less people get tests done, I think less people are inclined to go for tests, so we usually find that Sunday and Monday we’ve usually got less tests coming in for us to analyse.”

Coronavirus – Fri Oct 23, 2020
The laboratory employs around 500 people (Jane Barlow/PA)

The laboratory has processed three million tests since it came online in April, when it was processing just around 40 tests a day.

There are plans to increase capacity to 85,000 tests a day in the coming weeks and the laboratory is recruiting staff to enable it to do so.

Ms Clugston said: “We’re currently doing around 50,000 tests per day.

“We have plans over the coming weeks to increase that to 85,000 tests per day and we’ve made some changes to the space that we have and staff to allow us to increase that capacity.”

Baroness Dido Harding said: “The incredible work being done by all staff at the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab has helped us significantly increase our current testing capacity to more than 380,000 per day, and is contributing towards our goal of 500,000 a day by the end of October.

“Today we can also announce that a new Lighthouse Lab is set to open in Plymouth to further increase testing capacity for the UK.

“The lab is due to open early next year, with construction starting next month. When fully operational, the Plymouth lab will have the capacity to process up to 40,000 Covid-19 tests each day.

“I’m grateful to every single person who is playing their part in NHS Test and Trace to make sure that people who need one can get a test, we protect the most vulnerable, and we continue to reach the majority of positive cases and their contacts.”

Health minister Lord Bethell also said: “I would like to thank everybody at the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab, and across the UK, who are tirelessly working to make sure everyone who needs a test can get one.

“The new Plymouth Lighthouse Lab opening in the new year will create around 300 new jobs for the local community, which will provide a significant boost to the UK’s growing diagnostic industry as well as hugely increasing testing capacity.”