UKHSA knew for a month about problems at lab that was giving incorrect Covid test results

Discrepancies in Covid tests checks that led to thousands of people receiving incorrect results were spotted a month before testing was stopped at a scandal-hit laboratory, court papers have shown.

More than 43,000 people received false-negative PCR results after errors at the Immensa laboratory in Wolverhampton.

Documents show that Immensa alerted the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to the unusual figures on September 14.

But tests at the lab were only suspended on October 12, after the agency had launched an investigation.

Details of the time-lag emerged after lawyers acting for the Good Law Project campaign group launched a judicial review over the Government’s handling of the issue.

As part of the legal process, the Government released UKHSA documents relating to the lab errors.

The Immensa lab in Wolverhampton Science Park, where Covid testing was halted after people received false-negatives

Credit: Christopher Furlong

The errors led to people infected with Covid being mistakenly advised to stop isolating, increasing the risk of potentially infecting others. This is thought to have led to a spike in cases in the south-west of England.

The court documents showed Immensa was only required to routinely report tests that had produced no result, along with information about how fast the laboratory was turning tests around.

There were no checks to see how the results compared with other laboratories. This has since changed.

Experts have criticised the delay in reporting the problem at the lab.

Andrew Preston, a microbiologist at the University of Bath, said: “This is an issue that should have been flagged very soon after it started to arise, and then there should be procedures in place to at least know what’s going on – and say ‘hold on a minute’ and say ‘we need to go in’.

“And then in that case, if you have doubts over the veracity of your testing programme you cannot continue to test live samples if you are not convinced by the results.”

‘Breach of duty to protect life’

The Good Law Project said the Department for Health and Social Care’s failure to set up and enforce a proper system to monitor the accuracy of PCR testing at private labs like Immensa breached its duty to protect life under the NHS Act 2006 and the human rights of the thousands of people affected.

Jo Maugham, the director of Good Law Project, said: “A box-fresh unaccredited testing company was given a huge public contract; it then delivered tens of thousands of false negative test results.

“Ministers have failed to provide an account of what happened and to implement proper safety checks at private labs to prevent this ever happening again. With a tidal wave of Omicron sweeping the country people need to know that Test and Trace won’t fail to protect them and their families and friends again.”

The UKHSA said it “cannot comment on any information that could form part of these investigations before they are complete”.

It added: “We suspended testing at the Immensa Wolverhampton laboratory following an ongoing investigation into positive LFD (lateral flow) results subsequently testing negative on PCR. Those affected were contacted as soon as possible.”

Immensa said it was fully co-operating with the investigation.

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