One million finger-prick blood tests bought by the Government to diagnose Covid-19 within 20 minutes are ‘not yet proven to work’, safety watchdog warns
- The Government has purchased one million pin prick Covid tests for home use
- The tests were supposed to provide a diagnosis at home without special tools
- Scientists said the Department of Health has ‘rushed through’ the home tests
- Professor John Ashton accused the government of ‘taking a punt’ on the tests
One million finger-prick blood tests bought by the Government, which are said to tell you in 20 minutes if you’ve had Covid-19, are ‘not yet proven to work’, scientists have warned.
They say the tests, that look for proteins released by the immune system in response to the virus, have been ‘rushed through’ by the Department of Health.
Made by York-based biomedical firm Abingdon Health, the ‘99 per cent accurate’ antibody test has not yet received approval by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for at-home usage – which is how the Government intend to use them.
The government has purchased one-million pin prick Covid-19 tests that are supposed to diagnose the illness within 20 minutes inside a patient’s home, picture posed by model
Although some medicines and diagnostic tools have been similarly fast-tracked, there is little proof these tests will be of any use, experts said. They have warned there are echoes of the Government’s disastrous investment in antibody kits in April, when 3.5 million of those bought turned out to be unusable.
Professor John Ashton, former public health director for the North West of England, said: ‘This is typical of the Government’s approach to the pandemic. They take a punt with these tests, they get rushed through, then they don’t work.
‘Ministers are in a state of panic and they’re making mistakes.’
Professor Allyson Pollock, a member of the SAGE group which advises the Government, added: ‘If these tests are not properly evaluated and used in the right way, they are a massive waste of public resources.
‘This is money that could be going into primary or social care. Instead, the Government is attempting to home-grow a tech industry, putting economy before public health.’
Ministers have spoken for months of plans to introduce the tests, with Boris Johnson declaring them ‘game changing’ in the fight against Covid-19. But there are concerns about the efficacy of DIY blood tests, which often produce unreliable results.
Abingdon Health’s website does not recommend home use of its antibody test, called AbC-19, stating it is ‘only for healthcare professionals’. And when contacted by this newspaper, the company said: ‘The test cannot be carried out at home – it has not been approved for that.’
But a Government press release described the acquisition as ‘home antibody tests’.
Ministers have spoken for months of plans to introduce the tests, with Boris Johnson declaring them ‘game changing’ in the fight against Covid-19. But there are concerns about the efficacy of DIY blood tests, which often produce unreliable results
Lawrence Young, professor of virology at Warwick University who advised Abingdon Health on the creation of the tests, says they needed ‘wider validation’ before being used by the public. He added: ‘Asking people to carry out a test and accurately read it is difficult. People often make mistakes when providing the blood sample because it’s a complicated task. Until we have wider validation we should be careful.’
Studies published last week by scientists evaluating the Abingdon Health test on behalf of the company indicate that up to 224 samples were omitted because scientists deemed them difficult to interpret. Dr Hayley Jones, a lecturer in medical statistics at Bristol University, said this detail means the accuracy of the test could be ‘over-estimated’.
Abingdon Health state on its website that the at-home test has been independently evaluated by Public Health England, which advised the Department of Health before the purchase, and that the results will be published soon. The firm also states that its test ‘meets all required quality and regulatory standards for use by healthcare professionals’ and ‘will help give a picture of how many people in the UK have antibodies to Covid-19, which will help in understanding immunity to the virus’.
In a statement, the Department of Health did not deny that the tests are intended for home use and confirm that further evaluation is ongoing.