Gloucestershire’s COVID-19 case rate is set to rocket because of recent false negative test results from the UKHSA laboratory, the county council has warned.
The rate continues to increase steeply as the impact of the UKHSA laboratory testing issues filter through,” a spokesperson said.
Up to 12th October, the county’s infection rate will have appeared lower than it really was due to many tests giving an inaccurate negative result (false negatives).
“Since samples were redirected to alternative labs, and a proportion of the individuals have retested, the confirmed case rate in Gloucestershire has increased by 327.7% to 634.2 per 100,000,” the spokesperson added.
It is likely that the county’s case rate will continue to rise steeply in the next few days – potentially appearing to be among the highest levels in the UK - before settling to a truer position once those that have come forward for retesting have received results.
Neighbouring local authorities also affected by the lab issue have seen similar increases, with South Gloucestershire seeing an increase of 279.5%, Bristol 232.3% and Swindon 241.5%, with case rates of 584.1 per 100,000 in South Gloucestershire, 520.8 per 100,000 in Bristol and 730.9 per 100,000 in Swindon.
This is against a background of increasing case rates nationally even though not all areas have been affected by the lab incident; cases have increased by 21.8% and the current case rate is 447.9 per 100,000.
At the moment it is unclear how much of the county’s increase is due to those affected by the lab
issues coming forward for retesting and how much is ‘new’ infections.
As a result, it is not possible to accurately estimate the current rate in the county or the precise numbers of false negatives as a result of the incident.
Sarah Scott, Executive Director for Adult Social Care and Public Health in Gloucestershire said: “As a result of the laboratory issues, from the middle of September up to 12 October our infection rates will have appeared lower than they really were.
“Now that samples have been redirected to other labs, the confirmed case rate in Gloucestershire has increased considerably.
“There will almost certainly have been additional community transmission as a consequence of these problems which will result in more people needing the care and support of our hardworking NHS and social care colleagues.
“Everyone affected should have already received a message from NHS Test and Trace on any action they need to take but we have been encouraging everyone who received a negative test during the identified period to take another one, if they haven’t already, as a precautionary measure.”
“Investigations continue into the precise cause but NHS Test and Trace estimate that around 400,000 samples have been processed through the lab, the vast majority of which will have been negative results, but an estimated 43,000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results between 8 September and 12 October, mostly in the South West of England, including Gloucestershire.
“The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has stated that this is an isolated incident linked to one laboratory and that there is no evidence of any faults with LFD or PCR test kits themselves and the public should remain confident in using them and in other laboratory services currently provided - all samples are now being redirected to other laboratories.
“NHS Test and Trace have now contacted all of the people that could still be infectious to advise them to take another test. Close contacts who are symptomatic are also advised to take a PCR test in line with normal practice.
Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Liberal Democrat Group leader and public health spokesperson at the county council, said: “I’m alarmed to see cases of Covid-19 in Gloucestershire sky rocket, with the highest number of cases ever-recorded being set this past week.
“This has only been exacerbated by failures at the Wolverhampton lab, providing false negatives to our residents, who will have spread the virus further as a result.
“While the vaccine will limit the worst of the effects, a higher number of cases will still lead to our hospitals being overwhelmed and, inevitably, more deaths.
“So many of my residents were left heartbroken ten months ago as a result of last-minute changes by the Government restricting family gatherings around the Christmas table. Nobody wants another Christmas like the last, and the only way to avoid this is to act immediately.
“Government inaction during the first wave inevitably cost tens of thousands of lives. It is time Boris Johnson shows that he has learned to follow the science, and reintroduce certain measures – such as mandatory face-masks in indoor public places and directions to work from home as much as is realistically possible – to save lives and to save Christmas.”