Great Britain

Britain’s biggest Covid-19 testing lab dishes out swabs to rugby stars and travellers to Dubai as public left waiting

BRITAIN'S biggest coronavirus testing lab is reportedly dishing out swabs to Premiership Rugby players and travellers to Dubai while the public is left waiting for results.

Company insiders have claimed Randox Laboratories is giving "priority status" to the sportsmen and tourists despite completing as few as one in 10 tests on time.

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The lab, based in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, is responsible for 25 per cent of the community tests across the UK after winning a £133million contract, reports The Sunday Times.

Leaked documents marked "sensitive" reportedly reveal the lab's shocking failures as it emerges it has thrown away more tests than any other lab due to human error.

Staff claimed tests from rugby players and coaching staff are flown by helicopter to Antrim every week and given "priority status".

It also emerged on September 2 the firm announced it had signed a new deal to screen airline passengers to Dubai.

And this was reportedly on the same day the lab voided 12,401 tests without explanation.

Sources told The Sunday Times the firm has taken on too much and cannot process tests quickly enough for them to remain "stable" and give accurate results.

It was reported there is a physical backlog of tests with some left dumped in the delivery area and hangar of the lab.

Staff are said to doing 12-hour shifts to try and get through the all the tests, with some being student temps working for just £8.20 an hour.

Insiders claimed some tests are left in freezers for days - with the test result becoming less reliable as they decay over time.

The firm is also reportedly negotiating with Boots for a contract to carry out commercial testing.

The firm was previously forced to recall half a million test kits after they were found to be not sterile.

And the company was embroiled in a scandal in 2018 when drug tests used by the police were found to have been manipulated by its staff.

Dozens of people ended up having their drug-driving offence convictions quashed following the foul-up, which was condemned by police chiefs.

Randox - who employ Tory MP Owen Paterson as a consultant for £100,000 a year - said it was receiving samples "in excess of daily capacity".

The firm denied that it prioritises commercial work.

And Randox insisted its relationship with Mr Paterson had no role in it winning the multimillion contract from the government.

In a statement on testing, the firm said: "Randox takes great care in meeting all its contractual obligations and fully recognises the critical importance of meeting those obligations with regard to the national testing programme.

"Randox does not prioritise commercial work ahead of other work streams. We do not comment on commercial matters. We do not have a practice of voiding high numbers of test kits on a daily basis.

"On average the Randox void rate is comparable across the programme.”

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Parents sick with worry and desperate for a test for a poorly child will be disgusted at news they are pushed to the back of the queue because of a private company’s commercial priorities.

"Testing has become a shambles."

It comes as testing centres are facing huge queues and massive backlogs with hundreds of thousands unable to get swabbed.

The crowds come as it was revealed last week that no tests were available in 46 out of 48 of the nation’s worst Covid hotspots.

And a backlog of 240,000 tests has now built up will not be cleared until deep into autumn or beyond — when millions of people will be at risk of cold and flu symptoms similar to coronavirus.

The breakdown in the system has also left doctors, nurses, care home residents and teachers all unable to get checked for the killer virus.

Brits have also reportedly been told they have to drive up to 100 miles to get tested - with some then being turned away due to glitches.

Around 200,000 tests a day are being completed at the moment, but there is capacity for more than 300,000.

Boris Johnson has vowed to reach a daily testing capacity of 500,000 by the end of October. 

Ministers have put out to tender a two-year contract to deliver 200,000 home testing kits a day — with an option for a further six months.

The government believe testing is key to avoiding Britain having to return to draconian lockdown restrictions from the early days of the pandemic.

Teenage school leavers are now being put to work in testing labs to help boost staffing levels to clear the backlog.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ramped up the pressure on the Government to get testing under control.

He wants ministers to put children at the front of the queue for tests to avoid pupils missing lessons.

Sir Keir accused the Government of “treating families as an afterthought”.

It comes as Britain is braced for an "inevitable" second wave with the PM believed to be set to announce a "circuit break" limited lockdown.

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