Rapid lateral flow tests imported from China are “dangerous to public health” and their use has undermined UK firms specialising in diagnostic technology.
That is the message of Alba MP, Neale Hanvey, who is calling on the UK government to immediately suspend the use of Innova Lateral Flow Tests. In a debate on emergency Covid contracts at Westminster last week, Mr Hanvey asked the parliamentary secretary, Julie Lopez MP, why the UK government was using “trade distorting practices to prop up” the controversial rapid tests.
The reality is people are going about their normal lives confident that they’ve had a negative result, all the while spreading the virus around their communities. That’s why these tests are dangerous to public health.
Mr Hanvey’s call comes after it emerged the UK government had commissioned the Defence Science and Technology laboratory at Porton Down to run analysis of the tests, despite the manufacturer's own data showing that the tests are unsuitable for asymptomatic screening and that they are not endorsed as sensitive to the prevailing Delta variant.
The rapid tests had been approved 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.
Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) raised significant concerns around the accuracy of the tests, advising the US public to “stop using” the tests and return them to the manufacturer.
Mr Hanvey has repeatedly warned about the rapid tests, telling the BMJ in December 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:
“These rapid tests are not fit for purpose. They weren’t up to the job before, and the situation is even worse now we know that the manufacturer doesn’t believe the tests can detect the Delta variant.
“I want to understand why the UK government is so intent on standing by these tests. They’ve gone to the ludicrous lengths of trying to disprove the manufacturer’s own data so that the tests can continue to be used in the UK.
“The reality is people are going about their normal lives confident that they’ve had a negative result, all the while spreading the virus around their communities. That’s why these tests are dangerous to public health.
“It’s been frustrating raising the concerns of experts with Matt Hancock, only for him to insist that the tests were safe and accurate. I also did everything possible to make the case to the Scottish Government in the hope that ministers wouldn’t approve the use of lateral flow tests in schools and hospitals in Scotland.
“But with a new health secretary at Westminster and the decision of the FDA in the US, there is now an opportunity for parliamentary pressure to finally put an end to these tests. They are dangerous, not fit for purpose, and completely unnecessary given the diagnostic manufacturing ability across these islands.”
Professor Allyson Pollock, Clinical Professor of Public Health and Director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science, added:
“It's crucial that the DHSC and MHRA publish the extension letter for the exceptional use authorisation and provide the evidence and the basis for the decision to extend the use of Innova Lateral Flow tests from June 22nd until 28th August. There must be transparency in all government decision making to ensure public trust.
“To date there are no published evaluations of the effectiveness of mass self-testing for children at preventing transmission, although there is accruing evidence of harms of unnecessary mass isolation resulting from mass testing.”
Note to Editors
The FDA decision can be found here.