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Neale puts PM on the spot over “discredited” rapid Covid tests

The UK government has chosen to “prop up completely discredited Chinese tests”, despite promises to the UK diagnostics industry to use superior tests designed and made in the UK.

That is the claim of Alba MP, Neale Hanvey, who led on this issue at Prime Minister’s Questions today in Westminster. In a tense exchange, the Scottish MP highlighted a promise from Lord Bethell, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, that the UK would procure 2 million lateral flow tests each day by the end of May, creating jobs and prosperity across these islands.

But the decision of the UK government to continue using Innova’s Lateral Flow Tests for rapid testing has meant that promise has been broken, infuriating domestic diagnostic companies. Mr Hanvey pointed to both Omega Diagnostics and Mologic as two domestic companies capable of producing superior devices to Innova’s Chinese imports.

The Prime Minister was caught off-guard by the question but said he did not “think it fair”, as he praised the UK’s efforts to support the domestic diagnostics industry.

Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) published the most serious class 1 recall of the Innova tests after raising significant concerns about their accuracy, advising the US public to “stop using” the tests and return them to the manufacturer.

The Innova rapid tests had been approved in the UK under a temporary Exceptional Usage Authorisation which was due to expire at the end of June, although that has now been extended until the end of August. This has led to calls from academics for the UK government and MHRA to publish the extension letter that should provide the rationale for the continued use of these rapid tests, but to date the UK government has not released the extension letter.

Mr Hanvey has repeatedly warned about the Innova tests, telling the BMJ in December 2020 that there was “a clear risk that those with a false negative result will feel overly confident about mixing with vulnerable people” [see here].

Commenting, Neale Hanvey MP said:

“We’ll be able to safely return to normal life when most of us are vaccinated and we have accurate, fast testing. The first part of that plan is going very well, but I’m afraid to say there are serious problems with the testing.

“That’s because for some completely inexplicable reason, the UK government is persisting with discredited Chinese tests, even though there are companies across these islands capable of making accurate rapid Covid tests, including one based in Scotland.

“After Lord Bethell’s promise, these companies prepared themselves to increase production of these superior tests. That promise was then broken, and the domestic diagnostics industry was undermined.

“It’s not good enough for the Prime Minister to engage in the usual bulldog optimism about the UK’s support for the domestic diagnostics industry. It might make a good soundbite, but it’s simply untrue.

“What we need are clear answers as to why the UK government has chosen to deprive Scotland, and indeed all four nations, from the jobs and prosperity that would have come from sourcing rapid Covid tests from companies based on these islands.”


Note to Editors

  • The FDA decision can be found here and a BMJ article on the issue can be found here.

  • See here for a story about the UK government promise that UK-based firms would be producing 2 million lateral flow devices each day by the end of May.

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