Covid: How did the error on poor PCR test results occur in the UK?

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It is estimated that 43,000 people may have received poor negative results in the Covid PCR test, the British Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Here we answer key questions about the error:

What happened?

The NHS test and trace have suspended testing operations provided by Immensa Health Clinic Ltd at its Wolverhampton laboratory following an investigation into reports of people who have received negative PCR test results after already testing positive on a lateral flow device (LFD).

The NHS test and trace estimates that 43,000 people may have received incorrect negative PCR test results between September 8 and October 12.

Where did it happen?

The lab at the heart of the error is based in Wolverhampton but most of the false test results have been sent back to people in southwest England.

How serious is the problem?

UKHSA says this is an isolated incident attributed to one lab and the number of tests performed at Immensa lab is low in the context of the larger network, and availability of tests is not affected in all the countries.

But scientists have warned that the error could be behind a recent increase in confirmed cases nationwide.

Dr Kit Yates, a mathematical biologist at the University of Bath, said: “We now know that 43,000 people have reportedly received false negatives, but that doesn’t even represent the cost of the mistake. Many of these people will have been forced to go to school or work, potentially infecting others. This could be in part the reason for some of the recent increases that we have seen. “

Why did this happen?

The UKHSA said that “investigations were underway into the precise cause” of the mass error, adding that it was seeking to “determine the technical laboratory problems” behind the false negative results. The agency also claims there is no evidence of flaws with the LFD or PCR test kits themselves.

Who are Immensa Health Clinic Ltd?

Immensa is a private company hired by the government to process PCR tests. The company is owned by the founder of Dante Labs, a company that began life as a DNA analysis company. Immensa was incorporated as a UK company in May 2020 and by September 2020 it had been hired by the UK government to handle the tests.

Its managing director and founder, Andrea Riposati, said: “We are fully collaborating with UKHSA on this issue. Quality is paramount for us. We have proudly analyzed over 2.5 million samples for NHS testing and traceability, working closely with the excellent teams at DHSC and UKHSA. We don’t want this case or anything else to tarnish the incredible work the UK is doing in this pandemic. “

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