Sister company of lab that wrongly told up to 45,000 people they didn’t have Covid probed

The sister company of the under-fire lab that wrongly told 43,000 they were Covid-free is being probed because of travel test complaints.

Testing operations at Immensa Health Clinic Ltd’s laboratory in Wolverhampton have been suspended because of the faulty tests.

And it has been revealed its sister company Dante Labs is now also being investigated by the Competion and Markets Authority (CMA) over concerns it may be treating customers unfairly.

This included by not delivering PCR tests and results on time or at all, failing to respond to complaints or provide proper customer service, refusing or delaying refunds when requested and using terms and conditions which may unfairly limit consumers’ rights.

The CSA said Dante was ‘a popular provider of PCR travel tests in the UK this summer’.

A negative PCR means people will not have needed to isolate and could potentially have spread the infection to many other people.

The errors at Immensa relate to test results given to people between September 8 and October 12, mainly in the South West of England, but with some cases in the South East and Wales.

There are no technical issues with test kits themselves and people should continue to test as normal, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Immensa is run by Andrea Riposati, who is also chief executive of Dante labs. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced in September it was investigating Dante Labs over concerns it may be treating customers unfairly

Immensa is run by Andrea Riposati, who is also chief executive of Dante labs. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced in September it was investigating Dante Labs over concerns it may be treating customers unfairly

Immensa is run by Andrea Riposati, who is also chief executive of Dante labs. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced in September it was investigating Dante Labs over concerns it may be treating customers unfairly

Map shows: The week-on-week percentage change in positive tests in regions across England

Map shows: The week-on-week percentage change in positive tests in regions across England

Map shows: The week-on-week percentage change in positive tests in regions across England

The errors at Immensa relate to test results given to people between September 8 and October 12, mainly in the South West of England, but with some cases in the South East and Wales

The errors at Immensa relate to test results given to people between September 8 and October 12, mainly in the South West of England, but with some cases in the South East and Wales

The errors at Immensa relate to test results given to people between September 8 and October 12, mainly in the South West of England, but with some cases in the South East and Wales

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

How many tests does it carry out? 

Officials said Immensa has done more than 400,000 swabs since September 8, which was equivalent to about 11,400 a day.

The company says online that it has completed more than three million Covid tests at its Wolverhampton site since it was founded in May last year.

Who was affected by the blunder? 

Some 45,000 Britons may have been given the wrong Covid results, officials said.

The site mainly processes PCR swabs from centres in the South West, but also checks tests from other parts of the country. 

What caused the testing error?

Officials are still baffled as to what triggered the error in PCR tests at present.

But analysing each swab for the virus involves several steps and complex machinery. 

What goes on inside the lab?

Once a Covid swab arrives at the lab it is processed by technicians to see whether it contains Covid.

But leaked footage has shown employees fighting at the lab in January at the height of the second wave. 

Does it process holiday PCR tests too?

The lab is not thought to process holiday tests.

But Immensa Health Clinic is owned by Dante Labs, which offers day-two and day-eight tests to people arriving in the UK.

It is currently under investigation after regulators were told it was failing to deliver Covid tests to customers and issue refunds. 

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It said a full investigation is being carried out into why and how incorrect results were given.

Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of UKHSA, told the BBC it was likely only a few thousand of the 43,000 affected were still infectious.

She added that it was ‘not clear yet’ what went wrong in the private laboratory, adding that it was ‘accredited to all of the appropriate standards’.

NHS Test and Trace estimates that around 400,000 samples have been processed through the lab, but new samples are now being redirected to other labs.

Test and Trace is contacting people who could still be infectious to advise them to take another test, while close contacts who are symptomatic will also be advised to take a test, as is already recommended.

PCR tests can detect Covid several weeks after infection.

If a person has a positive lateral flow result, they are told to have a follow-up PCR to confirm the finding.

Dr Will Welfare, public health incident director at UKHSA, said: ‘We have recently seen a rising number of positive LFD (lateral flow) results subsequently testing negative on PCR.

‘As a result of our investigation, we are working with NHS Test and Trace and the company to determine the laboratory technical issues which have led to inaccurate PCR results being issued to people.

‘We have immediately suspended testing at this laboratory while we continue the investigation.

‘There is no evidence of any faults with LFD or PCR test kits themselves and the public should remain confident in using them and in other laboratory services currently provided.

‘If you get a positive LFD test, it’s important to make sure that you then get a follow-up PCR test to confirm you have Covid-19.

‘If you have symptoms of Covid, self-isolate and take a PCR test.’

The Government awarded Immensa a £119 million contract in October 2020 to urgently ‘develop volume for PCR testing for Covid in line with test and trace requirements’, the contract shows.

The contract did not go to tender under rules allowing urgent responses to the pandemic.

A further £50million was awarded to Immensa by the Government in a contract last September.

Immensa was incorporated as a company in the UK in May 2020.

According to the Immensa website, the firm was new to Covid testing. It said: ‘In 2020, we adapted and evolved into Covid testing, taking advantage of our laboratory network, scientific expertise, and digital systems to deliver world-leading Covid-19 testing solutions.’

NHS Test and Trace has suspended testing operations provided by Immensa Health Clinic Ltd at its laboratory in Wolverhampton, following an investigation into reports of people receiving negative PCR test results after they have previously tested positive on a lateral flow

NHS Test and Trace has suspended testing operations provided by Immensa Health Clinic Ltd at its laboratory in Wolverhampton, following an investigation into reports of people receiving negative PCR test results after they have previously tested positive on a lateral flow

NHS Test and Trace has suspended testing operations provided by Immensa Health Clinic Ltd at its laboratory in Wolverhampton, following an investigation into reports of people receiving negative PCR test results after they have previously tested positive on a lateral flow

Graphic shows: The step-by-step process for a PCR test completed via postal delivery

Graphic shows: The step-by-step process for a PCR test completed via postal delivery

Graphic shows: The step-by-step process for a PCR test completed via postal delivery

Andrea Riposati, chief executive of Immensa, said: ‘We are fully collaborating with UKHSA on this matter.

‘Quality is paramount for us. We have proudly analysed more than 2.5 million samples for NHS Test and Trace, working closely with the great teams at the Department for Health and UKHSA.

‘We do not wish this matter or anything else to tarnish the amazing work done by the UK in this pandemic.’ 

Among the testing sites affected are Newbury Showground in Berkshire.

A man from nearby Swindon said his confidence in the accuracy of his recent Covid test result has been impacted by the issue at the Immensa laboratory.

Tim Barton, 48, said he and his family received positive lateral flow tests after falling ill with coronavirus symptoms earlier this month but their PCR tests came back negative.

Immensa Health Clinic, in Wolverhampton, has been suspended following an investigation revealing it may have incorrectly processed PCR tests. The lab (pictured) has been paid £120million by the taxpayer for its services

Immensa Health Clinic, in Wolverhampton, has been suspended following an investigation revealing it may have incorrectly processed PCR tests. The lab (pictured) has been paid £120million by the taxpayer for its services

Immensa Health Clinic, in Wolverhampton, has been suspended following an investigation revealing it may have incorrectly processed PCR tests. The lab (pictured) has been paid £120million by the taxpayer for its services

The client relationship director said: ‘My son, daughter and myself all had positive (lateral flow tests) – we then had PCR tests done at the test site in Swindon all of which came back negative.

‘This will undoubtedly impact people’s confidence in the accuracy of these types of tests… they could have cost lives.’

Meanwhile, in Wales, about 4,000 people may have been affected from testing sites in the Gwent and Cwm Taf Morgannwg areas.

Dr Kit Yates, a mathematical biologist at the University of Bath, said: ‘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.

‘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.’

So why DID Immensa get awarded its huge health contract? Firm was only months old with no known connection to viral testing

Immensa Health Clinic was awarded the £119million contract in October last year to carry out coronavirus testing. 

It was huge coup for the firm, which only came into existence back on May 18 that year.

The deal was never put out to tender so it is unclear as to why it was selected for such a lucrative contract.

Immensa’s only director is Andrea Riposati, 40, whose background is actually in businesses specialising in genome sequencing.

His previous jobs have included working in Artificial Intelligence at Amazon.

Immensa was awarded a further £50million by the Government in a contract in July 

Immensa had previously said its address was at a co-working office space in London’s Victoria area, with not enough room to manufacture anything in large quantities.

But in August it registered a new address in Lansdowne House in Mayfair.

Even when it was first started up, it did not seem to have designs in virus testing.

The overview of the companies activities lists ‘Research and experimental development on biotechnology’ and ‘Other human health activities’. 

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