AFBI’s role as key player in drive to Increase COVID-19 testing capacity in Northern Ireland

Date published: 16 December 2020

Area of Expertise:

Launched in May 2020, the provision of COVID-19 testing services by AFBI has significantly increased the Department of Health’s testing capacity in Northern Ireland.

As a result of ongoing demand, the AFBI testing team continue to provide essential support to the Regional Virus Laboratory (RVL) based at the Royal Victoria Hospital.  

The AFBI testing team was formed to support this key workstream under the guidance of the NI COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Consortium which includes Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and AFBI.

Chaired by Professor Stuart Elborn, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, the consortium works under the auspices of the Department of Health’s Expert Advisory Group on Testing and is also supported by DAERA. 
Having recently moved to a larger laboratory within the Stormont site the AFBI testing team, guided by Dr Alastair Douglas and led by Dr Ken Lemon, has worked tirelessly to meet the unpredictable demands placed upon it as a result of the pandemic and remain in a state of readiness should those demands increase.

The testing team are required to adhere to the RVL’s extensive quality assurance processes and have been praised by key figures within the Expert Advisory Group for their collective expertise and unwavering dedication to this project.

It has been acknowledged by numerous stakeholders that, with aplomb, the testing team have overcome the many scientific and operational hurdles that they have faced. Its ability to deliver testing services under challenging conditions has been ensured as a result of the ongoing support provided by AFBI colleagues and consortium members.

Professor Elborn thanked AFBI for its contribution to the consortium and said; “We are pleased that AFBI continue to lead the consortium’s drive to deliver patient sample PCR testing for COVID-19. This facility continues to significantly bolster Northern Ireland’s overall testing capacity. 

As an exemplar of what can be achieved as a result of cross-sectoral partnership, the consortium will no doubt continue to play a major role in Northern Ireland’s response during this time of a global pandemic.”

He added; “On a more personal note, I am delighted that working relationships forged as a result of the Strategic Alliance between AFBI and Queen’s University Belfast have aided the work of the consortium. I look forward to future opportunities for both organisations to work together and to strengthen the alliance.” 

Notes to editors: 

Quotes from May 2020:

Earlier in the year when AFBI began testing Health Minister Robin Swann thanked the consortium for their support and said; “I am grateful to all colleagues in the consortium for their collective efforts, working together with colleagues in our HSC labs, to increase our capacity to provide quick, accurate diagnoses at such a crucial point in our fight against Covid-19. This increased capacity will be key as we continue to deliver a robust response to this unprecedented pandemic and protect the health of our population.”  


Minister Edwin Poots warmly welcomed the additional testing facility; “This is another positive step forward in our continued fight against COVID-19. I am grateful for the combined expertise from our universities and AFBI which has enabled us to increase our testing capacity in Northern Ireland. Testing is a key component in tackling this virus and our increased capacity at AFBI is an example of what can be achieved by successful collaboration.”  


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