EXCLUSIVE: Government persists in using Covid-19 tests that are highly inaccurate, say doctors.22 April 2020
Despite this, the government is promising to ramp up Covid-19 tests, carrying out tens of thousands each day until the total of people tested on the last day of April reaches 100 thousand.
A senior NHS medical staffer who attended the meeting told correspondent.world: “With the astonishing inaccuracy rate we have been told about, it is certain that substantial numbers of NHS staff have been given false negatives, so have been sent back to work, or have been allowed to continue work, when they were in fact highly infectious.
“That must have been dangerous for the patients and all other staff they came in contact with. This could help to explain the high mortality rate in Britain’s Covid-19 wards.”
The government has been told in a leaked internal document to switch to by today (April 24) to the use of “commercial tests” to determine who has and who has not got Covid-19. It is not clear what proportion of the continued and expanded testing will in fact be able to make use of “commercial” kits.
Doctors believe the majority of tests will continue to produce a high level of false readings.
However, Prof Sharon Peacock, Public Health England’s Director of the National Infection Service, insisted the PHE test “remains reliable and effective”. Figures from patients’ test using the Public Health England antigen and then also tested by a commercial antigen did differ, but not by a significant degree, he said.
However this remark does not tackle the key question: could it be that neither the PHE tests nor the commercially available tests are themselves sufficiently accurate?
The degree of inaccuracy was not quantified in the memo, dated April 11. Under the misleadingly innocuous title of : “Updating PHE COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Protocols”, it said the antigen tests had become more and more inaccurate as testing was being done on a bigger and bigger scale.
It advised all twelve Public Health England centres to “migrate” to a commercial test by April 23
The NHS staff member said in any case the mantra espoused by the World Health Organisation of “test, test, test” was itself now becoming increasingly questionable.
“We look at a comparable country like Germany which has had low death rates. But that could be not so much because of extensive testing, but because of the structure of their populations.
“The Germans are not as concentrated in their urban environments as we are in the UK. In European countries with higher population densities like Belgium and Holland the death rates are much higher.”
He said that until far more accurate antigen tests were found and more care was taken over how they were delivered and administered, continued over-reliance on them might not help bring the infection rate down. Instead, doctors should rely on their medical skill to judge if a person was showing symptoms consistent with Covid-19, and act firmly at that point.
The quality and delivery of the tests could improve, he said, but until then they should be seen simply as a rough guide to overall trends.
An antibody test, it is hoped, will soon be rolled out, that would reveal who had contracted the disease without it being detected. Despite also producing some false readings, that test would provide vital information as to how contagious the disease was and where the hotspots were in the UK.