Helix contract to be downgraded to ‘as needed’
The laboratory where Bermuda's first on-island Covid-19 testing was carried out is expected to have its government contract changed.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said that the arrangement with Helix Genetic and Scientific Solutions would be “revised” so that the company was retained on an “as-needed basis”.
The Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at Southside in St David's will be the island's main coronavirus testing facility.
A health ministry spokeswoman said on Sunday: “The contract with Helix started on March 17 with a monthly cost, which included use of their lab equipment, of $92,413.
“Now that the government lab is fully operational and able to conduct Covid-19 testing, Government has moved to terminate the existing contract with Helix and enter into a revised contract to ensure that we continue to have redundancy for Covid-19 testing in Bermuda.”
In response to questions at a press conference last Friday, Ms Wilson explained that any new agreement with Helix, which is owned and run by Desiree Spriggs, was expected to include a daily, rather than monthly, rate.
She said: “Now that we have a government lab that is being paid for by the Government, we felt from an economic point of view that it would be more cost-effective to the taxpayers for us to terminate the contract with Helix lab and continue utilising the Southside lab and utilise Helix on an as-needed basis, because we need to make sure that we have a redundancy, if something happens at the Southside lab.”
David Burt, the Premier, announced on March 20 that on-island testing had started in a partnership between the Ministry of Health, Helix and the Bermuda Hospitals Board, with assistance from Public Health England and the Pan American Health Organisation.
Samples were earlier sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad to be tested, which meant a four to five-day wait for results.
The Government revealed on April 19 that the MDL was operational and run under the supervision of Carika Weldon.
Mr Burt said at the time: “Dr Spriggs and the Helix team are to be commended for their work pioneering local testing in Bermuda.
“To expand our testing ability, the new lab will complement the work already being done by Helix.”
A press release explained that at that time the island could carry out more than 200 tests daily.
It added: “The two labs, when fully staffed, can run over 900 tests a day.”
A health ministry spokeswoman said last week that PAHO “reviewed the data and labs' process to give advice and ensure quality assurance” for both facilities.
She explained that installation of recently acquired testing equipment from pharmaceutical firm Roche needed “additional space”.
The spokeswoman added: “Various locations were considered.
“The Department of Health lab at Southside proved the best location and was set up as such.”
Mr Burt said last month that Dr Weldon secured the capacity of 40,000 Covid-19 tests “provided by a private donor who had purchased those particular test kits”.
A government spokeswoman added last week: “The first part of the kits were paid for by an anonymous donor. The second part was paid for by the Government.
“The donor had asked to remain anonymous, we will respect their wish.”
The Royal Gazette asked for the value of each portion and was told that costs will be released by the Government to the House of Assembly on May 22 before details are disclosed to the media.
Mr Burt said on April 27 that cost savings were made thanks to the model used to test essential workers at the Southside drive-through facility with samples analysed at the MDL. The Premier said then that 667 tests were either in process or completed.
He explained at the time: “If this was done via the traditional method, via doctors' referrals and through insurance companies, the bill to the country for these tests would have been in excess of $200,000.
“But with the model that we have chosen, these tests to date have cost the Government less than $20,000, which is a great savings to the country, at a time when it is certainly needed.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a response from the Government about the release of information relating to costs for testing kits.