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233 swab samples 'accidentally discarded' before COVID-19 testing due to 'compliance lapses' at Quest Laboratories

233 swab samples 'accidentally discarded' before COVID-19 testing due to 'compliance lapses' at Quest Laboratories

File photo of a health worker preparing to take a COVID-19 nasal swab test sample in Singapore, Jun 10, 2020. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: A batch of 233 swab samples for COVID-19 testing was "accidentally discarded" before the samples were tested, in an incident traced to "compliance lapses", a private laboratory said on Monday (Oct 12).

Quest Laboratories had collected the samples from clinics across Singapore under the Swab-and-Send-Home programme, the lab said in a press statement.

"The issue came to the laboratory's attention two days later when clinics began contacting the lab for the test results for these patients," it said.

Quest Laboratories informed the Ministry of Health (MOH) about the disposal of the samples on Oct 9, the ministry said in a separate statement. It said the clinic had verified that no other specimen samples were affected.

As of Sunday, a total of 102 affected patients had been tested, with all testing negative for COVID-19, Quest Laboratories said. All affected clinics had also been notified.

READ: 'We can’t afford to make any mistake’: Inside a COVID-19 testing lab in Singapore


Investigations into the incident identified two compliance lapses in standard operating procedures involving handling and disposal of the specimens, Quest Laboratories said.

"The first lapse relates to the handover of specimens from the courier to the specimen reception staff. This occurred at the same time the laboratory staff were disposing of old specimens," it said.

The second lapse involved lab staff "disposing (of) specimens in the specimen reception area, leading to the erroneous disposal of the untested batch", it said.

WATCH: Inside a COVID-19 testing lab

MOH said it took a "serious view" of the incident, and was working with the lab to inform the affected clinics and contact the affected patients to return to the clinic for a re-swab.

"We are investigating this matter and will work with the laboratory to put in place the necessary corrective and preventive measures to ensure that such lapses do not recur," MOH said.

The ministry added that it would take appropriate actions against the lab if investigations revealed any breach of the regulations.

"We will also remind the other licensed laboratories on the need to ensure proper staff training and adherence to their standard operating procedures," MOH said.

READ: Singapore scientists develop COVID-19 test method that delivers results in 36 minutes

Quest Laboratories said all relevant staff had been notified of the issues leading to the incident and the repercussions, with the specific staff involved to receive disciplinary action.

The lab said that measures to improve sample handling and disposal had also been put in place.

"The containers for sample delivery are now colour coded, and significantly different from the containers for disposal, removing the chance of confusion between incoming untested sample batches and already tested batches for disposal," the lab said.

It added: "We have added a second verification step requiring all samples for disposal to be verified and signed off by two separate individuals."

"We deeply regret this failure of our systems," Quest Laboratories CEO Ginny Foo said, adding that revisions to tighten the lab's "chain of custody" and retraining of staff had already begun.

Ms Foo also said the lab was prioritising the samples of those affected to ensure that they received their COVID-19 test status without further delay.

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Source: CNA/dv(ac)


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