Why did Ministry tell Rako to not reserve any public testing capacity?

Extraordinary revelations from Rako Science today before the Health Select Committee raise further troubling questions about the way the Government has handled saliva testing, says National’s Covid Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“More than a year after the Roche/Simpson report recommended that ‘all efforts should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible as part of the range of testing methods being conducted’, today Rako disclosed that a senior Ministry of Health official repeatedly urged them to not reserve any of its testing capacity, provisioned for private sector customers, for a public health response.

“While the public was facing 10-12 hour waits in testing queues at the start of this outbreak, the Ministry of Health was giving the metaphorical finger to New Zealand’s only diagnostically validated Covid saliva testing provider.

“This beggars belief. Rako’s testing capacity is not taken from the public sector. It is additional to testing capacity that already exists. How many more tests could have been conducted at the start of this outbreak if Rako’s capacity was utilised?

“Testing capacity is still an issue, even today. We should be utilising Rako’s saliva testing services right now.

“Rako also told the committee this morning it has ‘offered the Ministry a protocol from the University of Illinois which would allow us to process eight times our current 10,000 per day testing capacity’, and that it has ‘repeatedly offered to the Ministry of Health to license its technology, for a peppercorn fee, to publicly-owned laboratories to support the public health response. This offer has never been accepted or examined by the Ministry’.

“These are extraordinarily troubling allegations that should further prompt the Government to call an urgent independent inquiry into saliva testing in New Zealand.

“Last week, the Government’s own testing experts slammed the slowness of the adoption of saliva testing. We need to know why that happened.

“We also need to get to the bottom of the appropriateness of the procurement process around the awarding of the nationwide contact to APHG, the diagnostic validation of saliva tests in New Zealand, and the accreditation process for labs running saliva tests in New Zealand; including whether and why the Ministry of Health altered the standards used by IANZ for accreditation.”