In 2009, a survey was conducted to form a picture of the availability and scope of services offered by National Reference Laboratories in EU and EEA countries with respect to six priority food and waterborne pathogens: Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Shiga toxin/verotoxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC/VTEC) and Yersinia.
The survey covered pathogen-specific methods used in the NRLs for detection and confirmation, further characterisation and antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST); participation in External Quality Assessment (EQA) schemes; the relationship of the NRL with the national institute of health and training needs. The overall response rate was high (80% or more), making this survey the most comprehensive to date and providing a baseline for assessing capacity and identifying gaps.
The most striking finding emerging from this survey is the lack of consistency in NRL capacity across Europe, with some European countries having little or no effective reference laboratory capacity to confirm or characterise some important food- and waterborne pathogens. This divide represents a serious weakness in capacity for early detection and response. Although training and standardisation of methods and the provision of external QA systems emerge from this survey as an important support that ECDC can provide for NRL services, the fundamental problem is the lack of laboratory capacity in some countries to support effective day-to-day public health action. This report highlights the urgent need to harmonise NRL services across Europe in terms of methods and to ensure the minimum operational capacity required to contribute to a Europe-wide network for public health protection.