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US lab authority says ‘chronic shortage’ of testing talent hindering Covid-19 diagnosis efforts

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More than half of US laboratories highlighted a lack of staff as one of the major challenges hindering critical Covid-19 testing efforts, leading the AACC to call for increased funding to meet the medical testing demand in the near and long-term future

The AACC has called on Congress to address the talent gap in labs revealed by Covid-19 (Credit: PxHere)

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed a “chronic shortage” of professionals who are qualified to perform clinical laboratory testing, according to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC).

The country’s authority on laboratory testing said a lack of staff is one of the major challenges hindering these critical testing efforts, with 58% of labs reporting it as an issue.

Now the pandemic has revealed a weakness created by a laboratory workforce it said has been “shrinking for decades”, the AACC is urging Congress to restore funding to the industry and ensure that labs can deliver timely, accurate test results, particularly during future public health emergencies.

AACC President Dr David G Grenache said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on how crucial high-quality testing is to patient care and public health.

“But the current crisis has also revealed the weak points in our country’s testing infrastructure, such as the fact that the US has allowed the number of laboratory training programs to diminish for years now.

“We at AACC strongly encourage Congress to restore funding for these programs so that labs can build up the capacity they need to continue to support the country’s response to public health crises, such as Covid-19.”


Diminished  laboratory workforce led to a weakened Covid-19 testing infrastructure

In spite of what the AACC called “heroic efforts” to meet the demand for coronavirus testing in the US, the country’s overall capacity continues to fall short of the levels needed to help contain the spread.

In 1990, there were 720 training programmes for medical laboratory scientists across the US, but that number has now dropped by 15% to 608 – as a result, the AACC said these training programs no longer produce enough graduates to fill existing lab vacancies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 72,100 additional clinical laboratory personnel are needed by 2028, just to meet the growing demand for testing services – a demand likely to increase as the population grows older, point-of-care-testing expands, and new tests are developed.

In its statement to Congress, the AACC said clinical labs will need approximately 7,000 new medical laboratory scientists annually to meet this demand, but training programs currently only graduate 6,000 students a year, leaving a deficit of 1,000.


How AACC wants funding increased

To reverse the long-term decrease in funding and ensure that labs have enough qualified staff, the AACC urged Congress to restore federal funding for medical laboratory scientist training programs, giving these programs the resources they need to train more students.

It also said lawmakers should allocate funding to hospitals and reference laboratories that provide clinical testing rotations to students from medical laboratory scientist programs, to help halt the dwindling number of laboratories willing to provide students with supervised clinical experience.

Lastly, AACC recommended legislators create a loan forgiveness programme for clinical laboratory professionals willing to work in underserved areas for a specified period, a move that could incentivise individuals to enter the field.