Health

Blunder at COVID lab is linked to deaths of 20 people, investigators say

Today’s health chiefs said that twenty patients might have died as a result of a mistake made at a scandal-plagued Covid testing laboratory.

Immensa’s Wolverhampton website made errors. Around 39,000 positive DNA swabs were wrongly classified as negative.

As a result, thousands continued with their daily lives and didn’t self-isolate — even though they were potentially infectious.

The UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA), chiefs now estimate that 55,000 more cases were caused by the mistakes made in the fall of 2021.

Following reports of inaccuracies in the results, NHS Test and Trace has suspended all testing operations at Immensa Health Clinic Ltd’s laboratory in Wolverhampton (pictured). 

Employees At Immensa Health Clinic In Wolverhampton Were Filmed Fighting With Each Other (Pictured) In January. This Was At The Height Of The First Wave And When The Country Was In Strict Lockdown

Immensa Health Clinic, Wolverhampton employees were caught fighting in January (pictured). This was during the height of the first wave, when the country was under strict lockdown.

The researchers estimated that every person infected by a false positive would spread the virus to two additional people.

Some people would have taken steps to lessen the chance of spreading Covid even if they were not instructed to self-isolate.

Researchers also found that 680 additional hospitalizations were possible.

They added that they estimated that just over 20 deaths could have occurred in these most affected regions.

After receiving inaccurate results, NHS Test and Trace (the body responsible for Britain’s Covid Swabbing Programme) suspended testing at Immensa’s Wolverhampton lab in October 2021.

It Has Been One Of The Most Enduring Covid Conspiracy Theories: That The 'Gold Standard' Pcr Tests Used To Diagnose The Virus Were Picking Up People Who Weren'T Actually Infected (Stock Photo)

This is the most persistent Covid conspiracy theory: that the PCR tests used for diagnosing the virus were not picking up infected people (stock photo).

Graphic Shows: The Step-By-Step Process For A Pcr Test Completed Via Postal Delivery

Graphic depicts: Step-by-step instructions for a postal PCR test

Q&A: Everything you need to know about Immensa Health Clinic 

How many people were affected? 

Immensa’s Wolverhampton website made errors. Around 39,000 positive DNA swabs were incorrectly classified as negative.

As a result, thousands continued with their daily lives and didn’t self-isolate — even though they were potentially infectious.

Between Sep 2 and October 12, 2021, Immensa did not receive any Covid cases. Affected patients — all of whom were contacted at the time — mostly lived in the south west. 

What were the knock-on consequences? 

Chiefs of the UK Health Security Agency have calculated that the errors, which were made in the autumn 2021, resulted in about 55,000 additional cases. 

The researchers estimated that every person infected by a false positive would spread the virus to two additional people.

Others would have taken measures to decrease their chances of spreading Covid even though they were not told to self-isolate.

Researchers also found that 680 additional hospitalizations were possible.

They added that they estimated that just over 20 deaths could have occurred in the most affected regions.

This site processes PCR swabs from South West centres, but also checks for tests from other parts. 

What was the cause of the test error?

A thorough investigation revealed that the mistake was caused by staff who incorrectly set the thresholds for reporting positive or negative results.

In samples from the nose or throat, PCRs can detect small fragments of Covid genes (known as RNA). 

It is very rare for RNA to be detected on swabs. 

This is achieved by repeatedly heating and cooling the material, which encourages it to make copies of its own.

If someone tests positive at a low cycle threshold they are likely to have a lot of viral fragments present in their sample – because it doesn’t have to be amplified too many times to be detected – and very likely infectious.

The reverse is also true – a high cycle threshold can mean a positive result even if very little virus is present in the original sample.

A thorough investigation revealed that the mistake was caused by staff who incorrectly set the thresholds for reporting positive or negative results.

Samples taken from the throat and nose can be detected by PCR to detect small fragments of Covid genes. 

It is very rare for RNA to be detected on swabs. 

This is achieved by repeatedly heating and cooling the material, which encourages it to make copies of its own.

If someone tests positive at a low cycle threshold they are likely to have a lot of viral fragments present in their sample – because it doesn’t have to be amplified too many times to be detected – and very likely infectious.

The reverse is also true – a high cycle threshold can mean a positive result even if very little virus is present in the original sample.

Richard Gleave is the UKHSA director, and lead investigator. He said, “Through this investigation, we have carefully looked at the arrangements in effect for supervising contracts of private laboratories providing surge testing during that time.”

“We concluded that the error in reporting Covid PCR test results in September 2021 and October 2021 was due to staff errors at Immensa’s Wolverhampton lab.

‘It is our belief that there was no single action NHS Test and Trace could have taken to prevent this error in the private laboratory.

“However our report makes clear recommendations to reduce the likelihood of incidents such as this occurring again and ensure that concerns can be addressed quickly.

Between Sep 2 and October 12, 2021, Immensa did not receive any Covid cases. Affected patients — all of whom were contacted at the time — mostly lived in the south west. 

Top experts warned that the testing error was not technical and occurred at the worst possible moment. 

Daily cases were reaching peak second-wave levels, and the booster program was struggling to keep up with the harsh winter.

UKHSA chief Executive Jenny Harries said that UKHSA is committed in being transparent and learning. This includes investigating what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it.

“I accept the findings and recommendations in this report. Many were implemented within minutes of UKHSA discovering the incident.

“These continuous improvements will increase our ability to spot potential problems earlier when they arise.

“We are especially keen to improve our collaboration with local partners, directors of public health, as rapid incidents such as this occur.”

Immensa was awarded a £119million contract in October 2020 to urgently ‘develop volume for PCR testing for Covid’.

It was not offered for tender according to rules that allowed urgent responses to the pandemic. This meant that other companies were not able to bid.

Another £50million was awarded to Immensa by the Government For additional PCR testing, see last summer.

Andrea Riposati, a Harvard University graduate, founded the company. It was established in May 2020, just months before it was awarded its first contract by Matt Hancock’s Department of Health. 

The site’s covid testers were seen fighting, playing football and sleeping while the country was under lockdown.

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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