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My lab: The islands' laboratory

Laboratory Manager Kim Finlayson gives a guided tour of the laboratory facilities on the Falkland Islands.

The Falkland Islands is a small archipelago in the South Atlantic. We have a growing, diverse and resilient island community that has prospered over time as a British Overseas Territory with full internal self-government.

The Falkland Islands Government-run King Edward VII Memorial Hospital is the only healthcare provider on the islands, serving the resident population, Ministry of Defence personnel and support staff and thousands of transient, individuals, including tourists and fishermen. The hospital is an “all-under-one-roof” facility providing primary care clinics, casualty, secondary care, dental, theatre, imaging and pathology services.

The remote location and small scale of our operation means the demands on this healthcare service are unique. The laboratory department comprises blood sciences, clinical microbiology and food and water microbiology. It is supported by a separate specimen reception area for all disciplines. We have six full-time staff, including two laboratory assistants, one food and water microbiology scientist and three biomedical scientists. We also currently have one student gaining work experience with us prior to undertaking a degree in biomedical science. 

Our three biomedical scientist posts are recruited to provide a balance of specialist knowledge and skills in the three disciplines of microbiology, haematology and transfusion and biochemistry.

All biomedical science staff receive training upon arrival and work as multi-disciplinary scientists across these three disciplines to some degree. The opportunity to learn new skills and work closely with colleagues with different specialist backgrounds provides an excellent learning environment.  Additionally, two of the biomedical science staff, myself included, also carry management responsibilities and split our time between the lab bench and the office desk.

Our blood science laboratory is equipped with two Roche Cobas c311s and one Roche Cobas e411 for provision of biochemistry. Haematology is supported by two Sysmex XN-550s, and one Sysmex CA660 for provision of a limited range of coagulation testing. We are currently in the process of transitioning from a manual Bio-Rad transfusion testing system to a manual Ortho transfusion system. We hold small stocks of O-neg and O-pos red cell concentrate for emergency use only; this blood supply comes to us from the NHS blood supply chain via our diligent colleagues in Defence Pathology.

Our clinical microbiology section carries out all routine MC&S investigations, relying largely on conventional methods and techniques, though the department is augmented by a Cepheid GeneXpert, which provides an array of PCR tests, and a mini-Vidas for provision of viral serology.

The food and water microbiology lab processes water from the local water filtration plant, visiting vessels and the local swimming pool. This section also carries out microbiology detection and enumeration investigations on a number of raw food products.

Ninety percent of the agar used in the two microbiology labs is manufactured on site from dehydrated powder by our laboratory assistants, who also man specimen reception and assist in all laboratory areas.

Although small we are an aspirational department, we have attained IBMS training lab accreditation to support staff level and expanded this to registration level in March of this year. We are currently working towards ISO 17025 accreditation of our quality management system with a restricted scope of investigations to be included. The small size of our lab and limited staffing resource mean that it has been a big team effort to get to where we are today.  

Image credit |KEMH Pathology and Food Water Environmental Laboratory

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