A COVID-19 testing site in central England has been suspended after it was revealed that it had been wrongly giving negative PCR test results to people who were infected.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Friday that between September 8 and October 12, an estimated 43,000 people, mainly in southwest England, might have been told incorrectly by the center in Wolverhampton that their COVID-19 tests were negative due to “technical issues.”
“We have immediately suspended testing at this laboratory while we continue the investigation,” said Dr. Will Welfare, the public health incident director at the UKHSA.
Following reports of people getting negative PCR test results after testing positive on rapid Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs), NHS Test and Trace launched an investigation into the issue.
The existing samples are now being redirected to other labs, with authorities contacting the affected individuals who could still be infectious to advise them to take another test.
Sites in Wales and England that had sent their PCR tests to the Wolverhampton center for processing have also been impacted.
“We now know 43,000 people are believed to have been given false negatives, but this doesn’t even come near to the cost of the mistake,” said Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in the department of mathematical sciences at the University of Bath.
“Many of these people will have been forced into school or work potentially infecting others. This could be part of the reason behind some of the recent rises we’ve seen,” Yates added.
Dr. Alexander Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading, said the issue was “very disappointing.”
On Tuesday alone, almost 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 were registered in the UK. Across Europe, only a handful of countries, including Romania and Serbia, have higher infection levels than the UK. In Western Europe, the UK ranks the worst.