There was a shortage of laboratory professionals in Canada before the pandemic. More demand for lab tests is said to be exacerbating the shortage and many will soon retire. (Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science)

Lab professionals warn of ‘inadequacies’

Canadian lab professionals are warning the government about “serious concerns” they have and the need to action to address inadequacies in the country’s network of laboratories. The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science says that many of the challenges existed before the outbreak of COVID-19, and the pandemic has exacerbated the shortages of professionals and gaps in infrastructure.

Before the pandemic, lab professionals were processing over 440 million tests each year in Canada. Hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests are being added daily. As a large proportion of Canada’s population is becoming elderly, the demands for testing grow dramatically. At the same time many lab professionals are reaching retirement age. 

‘There is no plan’

 “There is no coordinated plan in place by federal and provincial governments to address this issue,” said Christine Nielsen, CEO of the society. “Make no mistake; we are seeing these shortages in many regions now, and this will only become more problematic with time. We need to increase clinical placements and domestic training programs immediately, and work to create long-term programs for international, foreign-trained MLTs to join our workforce.”

While some labs are well equipped, many are said to have outdated equipment and confined working conditions. (Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science)

Job openings remain unfilled

Shortages of professionals are felt more acutely in rural and remote areas of Canada. Many communities have posted jobs that remain unfilled for long periods of time, says the society. Incentives exist to attract some medical professions to such regions and the society says the same could attract lab professionals. Human resources are not the only concern, Nielsen pointed out.

“It’s also clear that laboratory infrastructure needs more than a patchwork fix to address ongoing issues. Outdated equipment and confined working conditions are lowering the efficiency of labs and potentially delaying the return of test results,” she said. “A dedicated laboratory infrastructure upgrade program would allow labs and lab professionals to overhaul current conditions.”

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