Tens of thousands of people, including some in Bath, may have received incorrect negative PCR test results in recent weeks, an investigation by NHS Test and Trace has revealed.
Testing operations at a laboratory in Wolverhampton have been suspended following reports of people receiving negative PCR test results after they had previously tested positive for coronavirus using a lateral flow test.
NHS Test and Trace estimate that around 400,000 samples were processed by the lab, with the vast majority being negative, but around 43,000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results between 8th September and 12th October, mostly in the South West of England.
Earlier this month a number of people across the Bath area reported receiving negative PCR results despite multiple lateral flow tests coming back as positive.
The NHS say all samples are now being redirected to other laboratories. It said the number of tests carried out at the Immensa laboratory in Wolverhampton is small in the context of the wider network and testing availability is unaffected around the country.
NHS Test and Trace is contacting the people that could still be infectious to advise them to take another test.
Close contacts who are symptomatic will also be advised to take a test in line with normal practice. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should book a PCR test.
Those with a positive lateral flow test should get a follow up PCR test to confirm they have COVID-19.
Dr Will Welfare, Public Health Incident Director at the UK Health Security Agency News and Media, said: “We have recently seen a rising number of positive LFD results subsequently testing negative on PCR.
“As a result of our investigation, we are working with NHS Test and Trace and the company to determine the laboratory technical issues which have led to inaccurate PCR results being issued to people.
“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.
“If you get a positive LFD test, it’s important to make sure that you then get a follow up PCR test to confirm you have COVID-19. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolate and take a PCR test.”
Bath MP Wera Hobhouse said: “This latest mishap is extremely worrying and impacts my constituents and many others in our region. Errors like this can ultimately prove fatal if those with Covid fail to self-isolate and infect others.
“We have seen time and again the risks of farming out so many essential services to the private sector, particularly during the pandemic. Yesterday the UK reported 45,066 cases, the highest number since mid-July.
“With Covid cases continuing to rise, the Government must act decisively to ensure public safety. Regular testing is so important in our efforts to contain the virus and errors such as this could undermine faith in the testing system.
“If you are concerned that you may have received a false negative test, and you still have symptoms, please book another PCR test as soon as possible.
“It is important that you also isolate until the results from this new PCR test are received.”