Coronavirus: Nearly 30,000 British swabs sent for testing at US lab found to be invalid

Cost to taxpayer expected to have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds

Samuel Lovett
Thursday 04 June 2020 13:21
Comments
Boris Johnson dodges question over coronavirus crisis management

Tens of thousands of Britons had to be retested for Covid-19 after their swabs were found to be invalid by US health authorities.

A total of 67,000 tests were sent to a university on America’s east coast last month due to “operational issues” which meant they could not be processed at a privately run laboratory in Northern Ireland.

The government previously admitted to sending 50,000 tests across the Atlantic, but The Telegraph reports that this figure is 17,000 shy of the true number and that 29,500 were later returned as void, at a cost to the taxpayer that is likely to have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

According to the paper, the swabs were delivered back to the UK in two large bags, one containing a “much higher than expected void rate”. This was a result of different equipment standards applied in the US, it said.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “We worked hard to get complete tests for people under difficult circumstances. In many cases that worked and we are grateful for the team for their efforts.

“But in some cases it didn’t, and the correct judgment was made to void the tests. Everyone affected was offered a new test immediately and we worked quickly to restore full capacity in the UK.”

Last month, a DHSC spokesperson said the original operational difficulties had emerged from a technical glitch which slowed down test processing and created a backlog.

“The expansion of the UK’s coronavirus testing network has involved setting up an entirely new ‘Lighthouse’ lab network to process test swabs,” the DHSC said.

“When problems arise, we have contingencies in place, which include creating extra temporary capacity for our labs or sending swabs abroad to partner labs for completion. Of course, our partner labs must match our high standards.”

At the time, Nicola Stonehouse, a professor in molecular virology at the University of Leeds who has research staff and students working in the Lighthouse laboratories, questioned the government’s decision to transfer samples abroad rather than to alternative UK labs.

“What I don’t understand is if there were problems at one Lighthouse lab, why they didn’t send samples to another Lighthouse lab, or to some of the NHS labs,” she told The Guardian.

“The individual Lighthouse labs to my understanding do not seem to be in contact and working as a unit: they seem to be working as separate, different labs and that doesn’t seem to me to be a very logical thing to do.”

On Wednesday, prime minister Boris Johnson committed to getting “all tests turned around in 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that”.

He made the promise in the Commons after former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the quick delivery of test results would be “absolutely essential” to the successful implementation of the government’s test-and-trace system.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in