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Briefing from the NML Pandemic Preparedness event in Parliament

By November 3, 2023No Comments

Diagnostic tests were seen as crucial in the identification and management of the COVID-19 pandemic as much by the public and policy-makers as by the medical community. However, it is increasingly recognised that better prioritisation of early diagnostic testing and earlier access to more robust tests would have slowed the pandemic and better informed policy makers, directly saving lives.

Global governments, health institutions and industry leaders introduced the ambitious goal, known as the 100 Days Mission, with the aim to improve the response to future threats using lessons learned from COVID-19 and previous epidemics. Building sustainable resources for the evaluation of future diagnostics that can be rapidly activated, mobilised, and implemented is highlighted as essential to achieving this target as, sadly, it is not a case of if the next pandemic occurs but when.

The UK’s leading efforts to establish a framework for timely access to quality-assured diagnostic tests for any future infectious disease outbreak was presented in parliament at an event hosted by Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chair of the UK Parliamentary Scientific Committee, on behalf of the National Measurement Laboratory (NML) at LGC.

The event which took place on Wednesday, 18 October 2023 in the House of Commons, examined the considerable successes of the UK’s National Measurement Laboratory, working closely with the MHRA, UKHSA, NHS laboratories and other partners, in developing the underpinning reference measurement system during COVID-19 to support test accuracy and how this learning is already providing support for the next future infectious disease outbreak.

Stephen Metcalfe, MP, introduced the event, highlighting the learnings from COVID-19 and the needs for future preparedness. The panel, consisting of experts from the NML, UKHSA, MHRA and FIND, provided firsthand perspectives of working in the diagnostic space through the pandemic at national and international level. The panel session finished with a look forward as to how the international framework (2022-09-30-ccqm-pandemic-roadmap – BIPM), led by the UK and developed to ensure timely access to quality-assured diagnostic tests for any future infectious disease outbreak, is already being deployed both within the UK and internationally. This aims to provide globally accepted baseline measurements to empower health policy decision makers and give them confidence in the data which guide their interventions.

The role and importance of diagnostics, as identified in lessons learned and discussions held, can be applied as much to infectious diseases as to a wider range of diagnostic challenges we are currently facing, including antimicrobial resistance and precision medicine. Diagnostics are preventative, the means for identifying an emerging issue, provide a quick response, and of course, are often needed to determine whether novel Therapies and Vaccines are working. Yet, when compared to other medical interventions, like Therapies and Vaccines, they are still viewed as the poor relation in terms of government priority-setting.

We need to act now to overcome the complexities of the current system and better leverage expertise, align resources and funding and create consistent long-term policies to address these challenges for the benefit of patients. As with many areas of science the UK’s Diagnostics expertise is world leading and its stakeholders ready to ensure a timely response to the next pandemic threat.