Supply chain shortages involving clinical laboratory products may not ease up any time soon, as China’s largest shipping province is once again in COVID-19 lockdown
Following two years of extremely high demand, pathology laboratories as well as non-medical labs in the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe are experiencing significant shortages of laboratory resources as well as rising costs. That’s according to a recently released survey by Starlab Group, a European supplier of lab products.
In its latest annual “mood barometer” survey of around 200 lab professionals in the UK, Germany, Austria, Italy, and France, Starlab Group received reports of “empty warehouses” and a current shortage of much needed lab equipment, reportedly as a result of rising costs, high demand, and stockpiling of critical materials needed by pathology laboratories during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Laboratory News.
The survey respondents, who represented both medical laboratories and research labs, noted experiencing more pressure from staff shortages and insufficient supplies required to meet testing demands in 2021 as compared to 2020. For example, only 23% of respondents said they had enough liquid handling materials—such as protective gloves and pipettes—in 2021, down from 39% who responded to the same question in 2020.
“The entire laboratory industry has been in a vicious circle for two years. While more and more materials are needed, there’s a lack of supplies. At the same time, laboratories want to stockpile material, putting additional pressure on demand, suppliers, and prices,” Denise Fane de Salis, Starlab’s UK Managing Director and Area Head for Northern Europe, told Process Engineering. “Institutes that perform important basic work cannot keep up with the price competition triggered by COVID-19 and are particularly suffering from this situation,” she added.
Lab Supply Shortages Worsen in 2021
With a UK office in Milton Keynes, Starlab’s network of distributors specialize in liquid handling products including pipette tips, multi-channel pipettes, and cell culture tubes, as well as PCR test consumables and nitrile and latex gloves.
According to Laboratory News, Starlab’s 2021 annual survey, released in March 2022, found that:
- 64% cited late deliveries contributing to supply woes.
- 58% noted medical labs getting preference over research labs, up from 46% in 2020.
- 57% said demand for liquid handling products was the same as 2020.
- 30% of respondents said material requirements were up 50% in 2021, compared to 2020.
- 76% reported dealing with rising prices in lab operations.
- 29% expect their need for materials to increase by 25% in 2022, and 3% said the increase may go as high as 50%.
- 17% of respondents said they foresee challenges stemming from staff shortages, with 8% fearing employee burnout.
UK-European Medical Laboratories on Waiting Lists for Supplies
Could import of lab equipment and consumables from Asia and other areas outside UK have contributed to the shortages?
“A substantial portion of the world’s clinical laboratory automation, analyzers, instruments, and test kits are manufactured outside UK. Thus, UK labs may face a more acute shortage of lab equipment, tests, and consumables because governments in countries that manufacture these products are taking ‘first dibs’ on production, leaving less to ship to other countries,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report.
Indeed, a statement on Starlab’s website describes challenges the company faces meeting customers’ requests for supplies.
“The pandemic also has an impact on our products that are manufactured in other countries. This particularly affects goods that we ship from the Asian region to Europe by sea freight. Due to the capacity restrictions on the ships, we expect additional costs for the transport of goods at any time. Unfortunately, the situation is not expected to ease for the time-being,” Starlab said.
Starlab is not the only organization sounding the alarm about lab supplies in the UK. The UK’s National Health Service also acknowledged gloves, pipette tips, and refrigerators being in short supply, according to an article in the journal Nature, titled, “‘Does Anyone Have Any of These?’: Lab-Supply Shortages Strike Amid Global Pandemic.”
Furthermore, economists are forecasting probable ongoing supply chain effects from a new SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in China.
Lockdown of China’s Largest Shipping Province Threatens Supply Chains Worldwide
According to Bloomberg News, “Shenzhen’s 17.5 million residents [were] put into lockdown on [March 13] for at least a week. The city is located in Guangdong, the manufacturing powerhouse province, which has a gross domestic product of $1.96 trillion—around that of Spain and South Korea—and which accounts for 11% of China’s economy … Guangdong’s $795 billion worth of exports in 2021 accounted for 23% of China’s shipments that year, the most of any province.”
Bloomberg noted that “restrictions in Shenzhen could inflict the heaviest coronavirus-related blow to growth since a nationwide lockdown in 2020, with the additional threat of sending supply shocks rippling around the world.”
“Given that China is a major global manufacturing hub and one of the most important links in global supply chains, the country’s COVID policy can have notably spillovers to its trading partners’ activity and the global economy,” Tuuli McCully, Head of Asia-Pacific Economies, Scotiabank, told Bloomberg News.
Wise medical laboratory leaders will remain apprised of supply chain developments and possible lockdowns in Asia while also locating and possibly securing new sources for test materials and laboratory equipment in anticipation of future supply shortages.
—Donna Marie Pocius