A COVID-19 testing laboratory in central England has been suspended over concern that it has been incorrectly giving negative PCR test results to people who are infected.
The suspension was announced by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Friday.
NHS Test and Trace launched an investigation into a lab in Wolverhampton after reports of people getting negative PCR test results after testing positive on rapid lateral flow devices (LFDs).
Government advice says PCR tests are more accurate than LFDs, and people can stop self-isolating if a positive LFD result is followed by a negative PCR test result.
UKHSA said an estimated 43,000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results, mainly in southwest England, possibly underestimating the number of people with coronavirus between September 8 and October 12. Said Dr Will Welfare, Public Health Incident Director at UKHSA:
We have immediately suspended testing at this laboratory while we continue the investigation.
There is no evidence of any faults with LFD or PCR test kits themselves and the public should remain confident in using them and in other laboratory services currently provided.
Immensa Health Clinic, the private company that runs the lab, was founded in May 2020 and has been awarded contracts worth 170 million pounds ($234 million) to process the results of PCR tests.
Its chief executive, Andrea Riposati, said the company was “fully collaborating” with UKHSA’s investigation, and did “not wish this matter or anything else to tarnish the amazing work done by the UK in this pandemic.”
UKHSA said it was an isolated incident in one laboratory, with samples now being redirected to other labs, and overall testing availability was unaffected.
But some scientists raised alarm that the false negatives could have contributed to the spread of cases.