Two resignations by key personnel at the government’s forensic laboratory has led to understaffing at the lab and delays in processing police evidence such as illegal drugs, Health Services Authority CEO Lizzette Yearwood has acknowledged.

However, she said, with two new staffers coming on line, those delays will be addressed. “We’re getting it sorted out,” she said.

Delays in the Forensic Science Laboratory issuing drug certificates, which confirm what kind of drugs have been taken into evidence, led to sharp criticism in court from Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez earlier this week.

On Monday, while presiding over a multiple-drug-charge case in which drug certificates remained unavailable, Hernandez said the lab’s delays in issuing the documentation were impacting cases before the courts and making Cayman look like “a banana republic”. The magistrate also questioned why private laboratories were not being seconded to help process the backlog.

Yearwood told the Compass on Wednesday that because two “key members” of staff at the HSA facility had resigned and much of the lab’s resources were concentrated on processing COVID-19 PCR tests, there had been delays in analysing police evidence, such as drugs.

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She said a new member of staff had already started work, while a second employee has been hired from overseas and is due to arrive on island on Saturday. Once cleared from quarantine, that second staffer will be dealing primarily with items sent to the lab by police for analysis, she said.

Yearwood said it was unlikely that local private laboratories could be called in to assist in clearing the backlog of drug tests because they would need to be specifically accredited as specialist labs to work with evidence. “I don’t think the labs are set up for that,” she said.

She added said that the HSA lab had been in talks with laboratories in the United States and Canada “to work with us to give us the resources we need”, but sending drugs overseas for analysis at those labs was not an option.

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