Roche has recruited extra staff and extended working hours in its warehouse to tackle delays © Getty Images
Roche has recruited extra staff and extended working hours in its warehouse to tackle delays © Getty Images

Why did a warehouse shake-up hit Covid test supplies?

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
7 October 2020

A switch in warehousing strategy by pharmaceutical firm Roche has caused delays in the supply of medical products to the NHS including Covid tests.

Roche sent a letter to customers, seen by the PA Media news agency, that said it experienced a “very significant drop” in processing capacity at its Sussex distribution centre and it was affecting the supply of testing materials for a range of conditions.

The letter said: “In September we moved from our old warehouse to a new automated warehouse capable of much higher volumes. However, during the transition we encountered some unforeseen issues and a very significant drop in our processing capacity. Since then we have worked around the clock to prioritise and manage orders as well as increase this capacity,” according to The Guardian.

A Roche spokesperson said: “We deeply regret that there has been a delay in the dispatch of some products and apologise to any of our customers who have been impacted.

“The teams at the National Distribution Centre are working exceptionally hard, day and night, to resolve this issue as soon as possible. As well as extending working hours, we have recruited extra staff and, where they can, our dedicated teams on the ground are working with customers to distribute products and minimise service disruption.

“We will continue to provide regular updates to our customers and we are doing everything possible to return to routine operations. We are prioritising the dispatch of Covid-19 PCR and antibody tests and doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS. Roche pharmaceuticals are not affected.”

Geoff Twist, general manager of Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland added: “We are confident that the plans we have put in place will deliver significant improvements by the weekend to the supply of the tests affected by these logistical issues. We will be well on the way to resolution by the end of next week.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “Roche has alerted hospitals to an issue with their supply chain, and they will be working urgently to resolve this issue.”

In September last year the installation of automation equipment at a JD Sports warehouse caused disruption, while in July 2019 problems with a move to an automated warehouse cost Asos up to £25m.

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