Minister after criticizing distribution tests: ‘Should keep small labs upright’

A conscious decision was made to divide the coronavirus tests in the Netherlands over many different small laboratories. That’s what Minister Hugo de Jonge says in an interview with Nieuwsuur. Critics say that this way of working is not efficient in a pandemic.

According to the Minister, the use of the small laboratories is necessary in order to retain the laboratories, which have an important regional function. Meanwhile, the large laboratories in the Netherlands are not fully deployed.

Yesterday, after research at Nieuwsuur, it turned out that the distribution of the tests across the Dutch labs is so complex that the logistic process regularly gets stuck. Large quantities of tests then have to be moved from one (small) lab to another (small) lab.

That’s at the expense of the speed of testing. Yet Minister De Jonge wants to stick to this system.

Old agreements get in the way of testing policy

The Municipal Health Centres (GGDs) and the regional hospital labs have always worked closely together and have laid down this cooperation in contracts about tests (such as STI tests) to be carried out. The distribution of the coronavirus tests now follows the same agreements, which means that the smaller hospital labs in particular are used.

“Actually, the larger labs should get a bigger share of the market,” care economist Xander Koolman said to New Year’s Eve. “That is now prevented by this distribution system.” He calls that system illogical.

Beautiful and sophisticated system’

“What we have in the Netherlands is a beautiful and sophisticated system of somewhat smaller laboratories, which cooperate well with hospitals and GGD’s in the region,” says Hugo de Jonge in the interview. “We want to keep it, because we will need it again after the crisis. What we’ve done with that is that we’ve switched on as many of those types of laboratories as possible (to do coronavirus tests, ed.)”

“But what we see now is that a lot of high-volume laboratories are needed,” says De Jonge. “High-volume laboratories such as those that exist in Germany, for example, do not yet exist in the Netherlands

De Jonge wants to set up larger labs in the Netherlands

De Jonge also wants to realise laboratories in the Netherlands that can carry out a lot of tests per day. “That takes some time. That’s why we’ve made an appointment with a number of large German laboratories in the meantime. In the meantime, we will also have to set up that type of laboratory.”

Sanquin, the largest lab in the Netherlands, said it could test even more than they are doing now during the New Hour broadcast. Minister De Jonge says: “They all use the same type of machine in the Netherlands, of the same type of materials that are in short supply worldwide. So we shouldn’t pretend that this is an exclusively Dutch problem. The same problems exist in other countries and for that reason we also say: we will also have to switch to another type of innovative testing method”