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NHS ordered to rush out ‘meaningless’ covid antibody tests ahead of PM’s deadline

NHS pathology labs were given just two days to roll out thousands of antibody tests, amid a push to reach a COVID-19 testing target set out by Boris Johnson.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister set a target of having a testing capacity of 200,000 per day by the end of May. Capacity currently stands at 161,000, Matt Hancock has said.

Until now there has been very limited use of antibody tests, with most capacity used to deliver PCR tests that indicate whether someone currently has the virus. Antibody tests are intended to identify whether someone has previously had the virus.

On 27 May, NHS England and Improvement wrote to local leaders giving them two days’ notice to put in place testing capacity for, and deliver, thousands of antibody tests of staff and patients. 

In one letter to leaders in the south east, seen by HSJ, the regulator said labs were expected to establish capacity and deliver 6,000 tests daily by 29 May. A senior source from London confirmed to HSJ the region had also been given a target of 6,000. There are seven local regions in the NHS, which would indicate around 42,000 tests per day, which if PCR testing continued at the current levels, could enable the government to meet the 200,000 target.

One head of pathology at a trust said: “There is one obvious answer as to why there is suddenly such an urgency to roll this out. While it will be interesting to have the results, there is nothing meaningful we can do with this test data at the moment.”

Another trust director involved in the scheme described the antibody tests as having “no clinical value”.

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Source: HSJ, 29 May 2020


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