Testing for disease in Hawke’s Bay has taken a huge leap forward, with the commissioning of a new, advanced technology, molecular analyser at Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s Laboratory.

Until now, samples being tested for difficult to diagnose conditions had to be shipped down to Christchurch, with results typically taking between 48 and 72 hours to be returned, depending on courier and flight availability. The new machine can provide results in three hours.

The Becton Dickinson BD MAX System can be used to test for more than 30 diseases, including COVID, norovirus, meningitis, campylobacter, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections.

It can test specimens from 24 different patients at a time for different diseases, and each test can be programmed to check for several diseases within the same patient.

The time turnaround and multiple disease capability are game-changers for the region, says Hawke’s Bay District Health Board Head of microbiology Neil Campbell. “In the case of a serious issue, we have the capability of running this machine 24 hours a day, running hundreds of patient samples. This gives our doctors and public health specialists the ability to act rapidly in responding to disease outbreaks in the region. On a routine day it can process approximately 140 patient tests, which will easily accommodate our normal hospital numbers.”

He says being able to test for several diseases within one patient at a time is particularly useful during COVID testing, as a patient can also be tested for flu at the same time. “The risk with only testing for COVID is that flu cases could be missed, given the symptoms can be similar. From here on in, patients can be tested for both from the same sample. This allows our clinicians to act quickly in patients with severe disease.”

“At the level of testing we were doing at the height of COVID we would still need to access facilities outside of the region, however at the levels we are in now and during normal times, we will be able to process almost everything we need here.”

Mr Campbell says health board management acted very quickly to source a machine once its benefits became apparent. “We had been monitoring the success of this technology for some time and so we were ready to act. Within days of confirming the need, we had an order placed with the manufacturers in Baltimore, USA. It arrived on Friday [May 22]; we had three days training on the computer programme, and our firsts real tests went through it on Thursday [May 28].”