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NHS staff to be re-tested for coronavirus after minister admits initial results cannot be trusted

NHS staff will be offered a new test after initial ones were unreliable (PA)

3 min read

Some frontline healthcare workers will need to be tested again for coronavirus after the Government admitted some early results were inaccurate.

Care minister Helen Whately confirmed the initial checks arranged by Public Health England (PHE) were “not up to scratch”.

Health and social care staff affected will now be contacted and offered new tests.

It comes after the Telegraph reported on a leaked document saying tests given to thousands of key workers may be flawed.

The memo from PHE, dated 11 April, is said to warn of "degraded" performance, meaning the results are less reliable than first thought. 

Asked about it on Sky News, Ms Whately said: "My understanding from the clinical advisers is some of the early tests were evaluated and the evaluation was actually they weren't effective enough.

"This is a normal process when you are using a test for an illness, which as we know is a new illness and we're learning all the time.

"Those who were tested with the test that we think is not up to scratch have been written to, to let them know and they will be offered another test.”

The leaked document said that due to "discordant results" identified in some of the tests, potentially thousands of healthcare workers were sent back to work believing they were free of coronavirus when they were not.

But Ms Whately downplayed such a possibility, adding: "In general we know that the guidance has been to people that, if you have symptoms, to make sure that you are isolating.

"We have to make sure we look at the reliability of tests.

"And this has been, also, the whole debate around the testing of people who don't have symptoms, for instance.

"One reason why the testing is focused on people who do have symptoms is because we know the testing is most accurate when you have symptoms.

"This is really, really important - not just to test but to make sure we are testing people effectively.

"You need to make sure that it's giving you an accurate result on which decisions can then be made."

The 12 PHE centres have been told to stop using the existing tests and switch to those supplied by commercial firms instead.

Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the national infection service at PHE, said: "No diagnostic test is 100 per cent sensitive. 

"Following a rigorous evaluation, we learned the PCR test produced different results to alternative tests in less than two per cent of samples, and we issued immediate actions to laboratory staff to ensure the continued reliability of the test.

"The test is regularly and thoroughly reviewed to make sure it remains reliable and effective. 

“It is standard practice to move to commercial test kits once available, and this work is already under way.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: “This is really worrying. 

“Ministers need to be absolutely clear about how many NHS staff they think had these false tests and what the plan is now to contact those NHS staff so they can test them again.”

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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