Laboratory staffing approach key to Ontario’s response to COVID-19 pandemic

September 25, 2020
The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) congratulates the Government of Ontario for its $1.07 billion investment in expanding COVID-19 testing and case and contact management.  However, there is concern regarding the approach to staffing laboratories to meet the elevated testing targets.
"While this unprecedented time calls for innovative and creative solutions, it's important that the right professionals are performing the right tasks," says Christine Nielsen, CSMLS"s Chief Executive Officer. "Accuracy and reliability of test results must remain paramount.  Ontarians are best served when their tests are performed by certified regulated medical laboratory professionals, in accredited labs."  
Deploying uncertified individuals should be done with great care, which means their roles are appropriate for their skills and training, and that they are working under the direct supervision of a certified and licenced medical laboratory technologist (MLT).

Ontario has been well served by its existing regulatory framework, which includes a national certification process, entry-to-practice standards, and patient safety mechanisms. This is one of the reasons Ontario's laboratory system is world class. During times of crisis, we should lean on these systems, rather than creating ways around them.

"While the theoretical knowledge that BSc and MSc graduates have may be similar to that of an MLT, the application is worlds apart," says Nielsen. "When it comes to all laboratory testing, including COVID-19 testing, MLTs are the most qualified practitioners and we need to respect the knowledge and skills of this professional group." 

Shortages in the province of medical laboratory technologists have been a long-standing concern.  However, Ontario is fortunate to have an abundant supply of medical laboratory assistants.  While not currently regulated, these professionals have a similar national certification process, that mirrors the rigours of their MLT counter-parts.  Better use of certified medical laboratory assistants to their full scope can alleviate workload pressures in various testing phases and areas of the lab, which can allow more MLTs to be redeployed for COVID testing.

Other professional groups within the laboratory profession, such as diagnostic cytologists and clinical genetics technologists, can also be called to help support the pandemic response. Retired MLTs and students finishing their MLT training programs would also represent a potential source of relief labour.
Only once those options have been exhausted, should non-medical/diagnostic laboratory professionals be explored.

Indigenous Land Acknowledgement : We respectfully acknowledge the CSMLS office, located in Hamilton, Ontario, is situated upon the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississauga Nation, Anishinaabe Peoples, and the Neutral Peoples. This land is covered by the Dish With One Spoon wampum, which is a treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe to share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We further acknowledge that this land is covered by the Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3, 1792, between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.


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