SINGAPORE — A total of 233 COVID-19 swab samples at a private medical laboratory were mistakenly disposed of last week before they were tested.
In a statement on Monday (12 October), Quest Laboratories said that the batch of samples was collected last Wednesday from clinics under the Swab-and-Send-Home (Sash) programme “were inadvertently discarded prior to testing”.
The batch of samples was collected from 87 clinics under the programme. Under Sash, eligible patients are swabbed and sent home to wait for their test results.
Quest Laboratories said that as of 11pm on Sunday, 102 patients have been retested following the lapse and their results have turned out negative.
The incident last Wednesday was discovered two days later when clinics began contacting the lab to ask about the test results for these patients.
Investigations found that there were two compliance lapses made during the laboratory’s standard operating procedures involving the handling and disposal of specimens, said Quest Laboratories.
One of the lapses occurred during the handover of specimens from the courier to the specimen reception staff, which had occurred at the same time the laboratory staff were disposing of old specimen, it added.
"As a second lapse of the standard operating procedures, laboratory staff were disposing of specimens in the specimen reception area, leading to the erroneous disposal of the untested batch," said Quest Laboratories.
It added that the courier will be receiving disciplinary action, while the lab has implemented corrective and preventive measures, including color-coding containers meant for sample delivery and an additional verification step requiring all samples to be disposed of to be verified and signed off by two individuals.
Quest Laboratories chief executive officer Ginny Foo said that compliance to procedures related to the chain of custody is taken very seriously and that the incident is a first for the lab which processes more than 6.5 million specimens yearly in Singapore.
"Nevertheless, any such lapse is unacceptable. We have made revisions to tighten our chain of custody, and retraining of staff on the new standard operating procedures has already begun," she added.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it was notified of the incident on the day of the discovery and is working with the lab and the clinics to arrange for affected patients to be re-swabbed as soon as possible.
It takes a serious view of the incident and is investigating the matter, said the MOH, adding that it will work with the laboratory to put in place the necessary corrective and preventive measures to ensure that such lapses do not recur.
“We will take appropriate actions against the laboratory if investigations reveal 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,” the ministry said.
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