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Coronavirus: Screening

Question for Department of Health and Social Care

UIN HL4552, tabled on 18 May 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the capacity of UK laboratories to (1) conduct, and (2) process Roche Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests; what plans they have to use unpaid volunteers as swab testers as part of their testing strategy; and what steps they will take, if any, to prohibit the sale of antibody tests by private companies which have not been approved by Public Health England.

Answered on

3 June 2020

The Government does not hold specific information on the instrumentation available in United Kingdom laboratories. Plans for the roll out of laboratory-based tests are being developed and, among other things, will consider the ability and capacity of National Health Service laboratories to process commercially available tests.

The Chief Medical Officer discourages in the strongest terms organisations from buying their own unvalidated antibody tests. Professor John Newton has also warned that unapproved tests could be misleading, by providing inaccurate or inconsistent results, potentially putting those tested and those around them at risk. He has therefore advised organisations both in the public and private sector against the use of antibody tests that have not been verified in a laboratory setting.

A RT-PCR or ‘antigen’ test is used to find out if a person currently has the virus. These tests are different to antibody tests, which are used to detect antibodies to the COVID-19 virus as a marker of past infection.

The Department is working in partnership with several organisations to ensure the Lighthouse Laboratories, who are conducting antigen testing, have the workforce required to maintain capacity. Individuals can apply to work in the Lighthouse Laboratories directly through Reed recruitment agency or at an organisational level. During screening, individuals can determine whether they wish to be paid or volunteer.