A Stormont minister has questioned the logic of the Government buying coronavirus testing kits from a Northern Ireland company then distributing them back to the region.
Conor Murphy was commenting on the Government’s partnership with Randox Laboratories, which is working with other companies to increasing testing for healthcare workers in the NHS.
Mr Murphy was asked why Northern Ireland was dependent on Whitehall for its allocation of testing kits made by a local manufacturer.
Details about the Government’s link-up with Randox had earlier been outlined at Stormont’s health committee.
“It doesn’t seem to me to be logical that we have a company 10 miles from here making tests, and the proposition is then to ship those things and redistribute them back to us,” Mr Murphy later told the daily Covid-19 press briefing at Stormont.
“So I think we need to ensure that we can secure sufficient tests for our purposes I think we need to continue to ramp that up.”
Mr Murphy added: “It’s no secret that I believe that we should have been testing much more and much sooner than we are, I am glad that said that it’s been ramped up now and I look forward to I’ve been doing very quickly.”
He said first and primary focus was to protect healthcare workers and ensure they could return to work.
“So that needs to happen very quickly, we’re late to the game in relation to this, we need to very quickly speed ourselves up and catch up.”
Pat Cullen from the Royal College of Nursing also expressed concern.
She told BBC Radio Ulster: “Absolutely gutted when I heard today at health committee that we are making the tests in Northern Ireland, shipping it out and will get whatever’s left over from the other three countries, surely to goodness the people of Northern Ireland and certainly our nurses deserve more than that, why not put them to the top of the chain for the first time in the history of what has happened in the last while, that’s not much to ask, to be tested and allow them to get back to their work.
“For goodness sake let’s all sit back and think about what is happening here.”
Economy minister Diane Dodds said Randox was part of a consortium of companies developing the tests.
“We will get our share of those tests,” she said.
Mrs Dodds added: “We need to make sure for our health service and our frontline health workers going forward that there is access to testing, that it is being ramped up as quickly as possible, and that we have appropriate shares, and that we can do everything that we can, given the challenges we face to get those tests.”
Chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle said testing was a “priority”.
“We are ramping up testing on a daily basis,” she said.
Randox has been contacted for comment.