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.