An undercover investigation into a Tory-linked Covid-19 testing lab claims to have uncovered evidence of ‘serious failings’.
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme sent an undercover reporter to work at Randox, one of the UK’s Test and Trace super labs in Northern Ireland.
The firm has been given almost £500m worth of government contracts, and employs Tory former minister Owen Paterson as a paid advisor.
Footage shows the undercover employee being told by a colleague that tests sent to the lab for analysis are sometimes not unpacked properly and are accidentally thrown away with cardboard waste.
This would mean people not getting their test results back, and would pose a contamination risk to waste handlers.
Shown the footage, Dr Tom Lewis, a microbiologist who has run an NHS lab for a decade, said if what the reporter was told about tests being thrown away with cardboard waste was correct “that would be illegal.”
He said: “We would be shut down if we performed in that way.”
Randox denied the claims, saying there had “never been an issue of samples being mistakenly disposed of. They said staff are adequately supervised and instructed on the need to ensure “samples are correctly processed”.
The reporter was also shown a particular type of test tube, with a red lid, which they were told was prone to leaking in transit.
This would lead to tests being voided.
Randox said they were aware that red-lidded tubes are “more likely to leak” but say they do not manufacture them.
They say they “raised this concern” with the Test and Trace programme coordinators in August.
The Department of Health and Social Care said they have “started UK-based tube manufacturing with these tubes designed to minimise leakage.”
These “will be in place across all Lighthouse labs and will mitigate against void results.”
The investigation says it found leaking samples, which are not always identified while still in their plastic bag, can spill over the gloves of employees.
And one staff member claimed gloves are not always thrown away, but sprayed down with disinfectant.
During his time in the lab, the reporter says he was told by a colleague to place leaking samples – whether loose or still inside their bags – into a cardboard box.
Dr Lewis said this showed a “cavalier approach to safety”.
But Randox denied this, saying a leaking tube “is not removed” from its bagging “under any circumstances,” so claim there is “no cross contamination.”
They added that the boxes are disposed of as “clinical waste” and there is “no cavalier approach to safety.”
Randox made headlines earlier this year after millions of tests supplied by them for use in care homes had to be withdrawn over safety concerns.
The Department of Health and Social Care suspended the part of their contract to supply tests following the incident, but they kept using the firm’s labs for Covid-19 testing.