BREAKING: False negative Covid tests from Wolverhampton lab may have caused more than 20 deaths

Staff errors at a Covid testing lab in Wolverhampton may have led to over 20 extra deaths as a cause of nearly 40,000 falsely negative test results, according to a new report. 

The report, published today (Tuesday, November 29) by The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), claims around 39,000 negative Covid test results were returned to members of the public from the Immensa lab in the city of Wolverhampton, in central England, when they should have been given positive results. 

The UKHSA report estimated the error, caused by the ‘incorrect setting of the threshold levels’ for PCR tests, may have caused ‘over 20 additional deaths’ in areas most affected by the falsely negative results. 

Thousands of people who had Covid – especially in the southwest of England – were not required to take further tests or to self-isolate, which experts now believe caused high case rates in some areas of the country.

The Immensa lab in Wolverhampton was used by NHS Test and Trace in September 2021 to provide additional testing capacity, and the company was paid over £100m (€116m) to carry out the testing. 

But testing at the lab was suspended by the middle of October following reports of inaccurate results.

The UKHSA’s report explained: “The cause [of the falsely negative results] was the incorrect setting of the threshold levels for reporting positive and negative results of PCR samples for coronavirus (COVID-19) by staff in Immensa’s Wolverhampton laboratory.

“This means that some PCR tests were reported by the lab as negative for COVID-19 which would have been assessed as positive if the threshold had been correctly set.

“[The] UKHSA estimated that this error could have led to around 39,000 results being incorrectly reported as negative when they should have been positive.

“This represents around 10 per cent of samples tested at the laboratory between 2 September and 12 October 2021 and 0.3 per cent of all samples tested for NHS Test and Trace during this period.”

The report added the falsely negative results had led to ‘increased numbers of [hospital] admissions and deaths’ and estimated there may have been ‘just over 20 additional deaths in [the] most affected areas’.

“Each incorrect negative test likely led to just over two additional infections,” the report concluded.

Richard Gleave, UKHSA director and lead investigator, said the report could be used to ensure incidents like this don’t happen in the future.

“It is our view that there was no single action that NHS Test and Trace could have taken differently to prevent this error arising in the private laboratory,” Mr Gleave said.

“However, our report sets out clear recommendations to both reduce the risk of incidents like this happening again and ensure that concerns are addressed and investigated rapidly.”


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Written by

James Gamble

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