Scarcity of test materials threatens, Dutch products are disappearing abroad

In the winter months, large quantities of corona tests will have to be administered, but Dutch laboratories say they have too few materials for this. These are disposable plastic materials that have to introduce DNA and chemicals into the test machines. The Ministry of Health distributes these plastics, but the deliveries are systematically too few, according to various test labs.

“We were forced to cut our testing capacity by half. With more materials that would not be necessary,” says Paul Savelkoul of the Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC). “And if we have to scale up before the winter, that’s a real problem.”

Plastic parts from major manufacturers of testing equipment, such as Hamilton and Roche, are particularly scarce. As a result, labs cannot perform full tests with that equipment. “The plastics may well be the new mouth caps”, Anton van Weert of Sanquin in Amsterdam refers to shortages at the start of the crisis.

Different plastics are used in testing. Below are some examples:

News hour

The plastic materials that are in short supply in Dutch laboratories are also made in our country. A specialized producer of these plastics is located in Limburg, but his materials go abroad in the millions at the same time. According to the director, the Dutch government has only ordered from him sporadically.

“We now supply governments worldwide, from South America to China and Japan, Scandinavia and the US,” says Tom Hendrikx, director of Bioplastics from Landgraaf. The company produces all kinds of plastics that can be used on different types and brands of equipment. Hendrikx already turned up production considerably at the beginning of the corona crisis in order to be able to meet the demand.

But large orders from the Netherlands were therefore not forthcoming, says the director. “I think, for example, that the Asians are much more decisive. They are good to see shortages coming, the Netherlands is good at establishing that there is a shortage.” According to Hendrikx, ’98 percent ‘of his materials now goes abroad and only 2 percent to the Netherlands.

The materials from Bioplastics only rarely arrive at the Dutch laboratories, Paul Savelkoul of the lab in Maastricht also notes. “We use these materials as a supplement, they are never as perfect as the original but it works fine and we are out of the fire.”

While the procurement and distribution of the materials is officially run through the Ministry of Health, some labs have started ordering from the company in Landgraaf due to the shortages, they confirm. News hour. These are labs that use Roche equipment. Savelkoul is surprised. “We get all the stuff through the ministry, I didn’t know there are laboratories that order themselves. As far as I know, that’s not the deal.”

The ministry says in a response that there are “enough plastics for the intended demand”. It is not possible to indicate how many these there are due to “trade secrecy and competition sensitive information”. With the materials from Bioplastics and the production line that the Netherlands is now setting up for cartridges itself, there must be enough stock for the winter, according to the ministry.

It is not clear why the Ministry is developing materials that are already available from a Dutch producer. The ministry cannot say why purchases were not made earlier and on a larger scale in Limburg.

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