Coronavirus test shortage was predicted in April; Advice was ignored: Report
Experts at public health agency RIVM alerted colleagues within the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport months ago to the possibility that the Netherlands would be facing a desperate shortage of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus testing by September. According to investigative journalism platform Follow The Money (FTM), they predicted in April that the country would need the capacity to meet an expected demand of 38,500 tests per day, but the country was routinely able to perform a maximum of 29 thousand tests daily once September arrived.
"Every day we receive about 38,000 to 39,000 requests for a test," said Sjaak de Gouw of the GGD in a briefing to Parliament last week. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that the Netherlands was trying to expand to 50 thousand daily tests by the end of October.
The news platform reviewed internal documents from the ministry to piece together missteps made during the creation and execution of the testing strategy. It showed that the Netherlands was preparing to scale up testing to meet demand later in the fall, ignoring the advice from the RIVM to be better prepared earlier.
The advice was given to the LCDK, the office in charge of coordinating coronavirus testing logistics within the ministry, FTM reported. The office spent time attempting to expand capacity through the use of hospital laboratories which were already linked to the GGD municipal health services, which carry out the majority of testing in the country.
Documents reviewed by FTM showed this strategy was unlikely to be successful already in early April. The doctors who went on to advise the Cabinet dismissed the prediction several times.
"The error within the entire chain was that the autumn started a few weeks earlier than previously thought," said Ann Vossen according to FTM. She was responsible for scaling up test capacity on behalf of the ministry, and serves as chair of the NVMM, the national association for medical microbiology.
It was a tumultuous time at the ministry during that period. In the run-up to the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Medical Care Minister Bruno Bruins had led the government in many issues related to GGD and hospital preparedness, while De Jonge took point on communicating the Cabinet's coronavirus strategy. Bruins informed Parliament in March about the decision that the Netherlands would not test everyone on a wide scale to prevent scarcity of testing just one week before collapsing in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house, during a debate on policy issues.
During this time, the Health Ministry, the LCDK, and its leader, physician and microbiologist Edwin Bol, did not contact external laboratories with enough advanced notice to scale up test capacity, FTM alleged. As a result, symptomatic people and those who have had contact with someone infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus often have to wait several days for a test, and often have to wait longer than the estimated 48 hours the GGD needs to provide a result.