About 43,000 May Have Received False Negative on COVID Tests, Lab Suspended from Processing

About 43,000 people may have received a false negative on their COVID-19 tests, British health officials said Friday, and the laboratory responsible has been suspended from processing.

Immensa Health Clinic Ltd. lab in Wolverhampton, central England, has been suspended from processing swabs after the false negatives, the U.K. Health Security Agency said.

The healthy agency said that "around 400,000 samples have been processed through the lab, the vast majority of which will have been negative results, but an estimated 43,000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results." Most of the false negatives were in southwest England.

Those who received the incorrect results received the false negatives between Sept. 8 and Oct. 12, though the agency noted it was an isolated incident. It also said people who received a false negative would be contacted.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Wolverhampton Lab
Health authorities have suspended testing at Immensa Health Clinic Ltd. lab following reports of people receiving negative PCR tests in contrast to positive Lateral Flow tests on Oct. 15, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. A U.K. government COVID-19 testing center stands in front of the Wolverhampton Science Park which houses the offices and laboratories of Immensa Health Clinic Ltd. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Will Welfare, the U.K. Health Security Agency's public health incident director, said the agency was working "to determine the laboratory technical issues" behind the inaccurate tests.

The issue was uncovered after some people who were positive for COVID-19 when they took rapid tests went on to show up as negative on more accurate PCR tests.

The agency said it was "an isolated incident attributed to one laboratory" and people affected would be contacted and advised to get another test.

Immensa was awarded a 119 million-pound ($163 million) coronavirus-testing contract by the British government in October 2020. Chief executive Andrea Riposati said the company was "fully collaborating" with U.K. health authorities.

Alexander Edwards, an associate professor of Biomedical Technology at the University of Reading, said the problems were disappointing, but cautioned: "Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater."

"The majority of test results are correct, and it's worth remembering that our testing system has been built up from almost nothing at the start of the pandemic," he said.

Britain conducts about 1 million coronavirus tests a day and reported almost 40,000 new infections a day over the past week.

Tests are required for everyone visiting or returning to the U.K. from abroad. The government is easing those rules, however, announcing that starting Oct. 24 fully vaccinated travelers to England from most countries can take quick lateral flow tests rather than costlier PCR tests. People can take the tests at home and will have to send a photo to verify the results.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged that the system would be "based on trust."

"Of course, the system requires people to be honest, like so many laws in this country," he said.

COVID-19 Testing
British health officials said Friday that 43,000 people may have been wrongly told they don’t have the coronavirus because of problems at a private laboratory. A COVID-19 testing sight opposite Wolverhampton Science Park, England, where the Immensa Health laboratory is based Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Jacob King/PA via AP