We thought we would escape it for a bit longer ... then the flood gates opened

Laboratory Manager at CUH, Sinead Creagh talks to EMMA CONNOLLY about the task of testing samples from patients, staff and community testing centres across Cork. This feature appeared in WoW!'s special edition dedicated to Cork's female healthcare workers
We thought we would escape it for a bit longer ... then the flood gates opened

Sinead Creagh, who is the Laboratory Manager at CUH.

This time last year, the first talk of Covid-19 began, recalls Sinead Creagh, Laboratory Manager

OUR Christmas decorations were still up when talk of Covid-19 first began, and I don’t think anyone really thought it would impact like it did.

That’s according to Sinead Creagh, who is the Laboratory Manager at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and who heads up a team of around 190 scientists, with additional support staff, across five labs.

Sinead recalled how the laboratory had prepared for previous epidemics like Swine Flu in 2009.

“And, being honest, when Covid first emerged, I didn’t expect it to have such a major effect here — nobody did,” she said.

However, Sinead, a Medical Scientist, vividly recalls their first positive result in CUH on March 5, and how it created a’ before and after’ type situation.

“We really thought we might escape for a bit longer but then the flood gates opened and everything changed. Suddenly Covid became a very real thing,” she said.

However, she said that from the outset they were confident they had the skill set and expertise needed to stay in control.

“We were very lucky in CUH that we were able to start testing very quickly and can now scale up to 900 samples a day if we needed to, which we did during the peak,” she said.

“We were really able to get ahead of things as we’ve great relationships with suppliers and knew of a testing kit available so we were out of the blocks really quickly and were able to test our patient population and our staff.”

At the start of the summer, when the laboratory was at capacity, the microbiology laboratory introduced equipment which allowed 90 tests to be analysed at a time.

“And that allowed us to do some of the swabs from the community testing centres across the county,” she said.

Some 60% of the lab work routinely done in CUH is from GPs, and the vast majority of that fell away in April and May, with little to no routine blood tests being carried out.

“But by the summer, we were back to full numbers again, and it never declined again during the second wave which showed how systems were working and people were adapting.”

It was certainly a very busy time for all the team, said Sinead, but everyone got used to it.

“We stayed at around 850 tests a day during the second surge and we’re at around 650 now.”

Sinead, from Douglas, is confident that people are now getting sound information which they can base their behaviour on.

“It’s so different to how we were at the beginning. I remember back in February we were talking about the situation in China, and how that would never happen here, and two weeks later we were in full lockdown. People are much more educated now.”

However she is pragmatic about what lies ahead: “Covid testing could be part of our routine winter virus tests in the years to come.”

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