'False negative' Covid tests scandal: West Berkshire residents share their stories of concern over inaccurate results from Newbury Showground PCR testing centre
As residents are urged to retake PCR tests done at the Newbury Showground after reports of false negative results, the Newbury Weekly News spoke to a number of residents who first raised the alarm.
Throughout the past week the newspaper and West Berkshire Council have received reports from local residents concerned over the accuracy of their negative test result from the site after testing positive from home tests and already displaying symptoms.
The council had assured this paper that it had passed the concerns on to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) for further investigation, and late yesterday (Thursday) afternoon the department confirmed that the Newbury Showground is one of a number of sites nationally that has been affected by false negatives.
Last week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was investigating after people claimed they were receiving differing results from PCR and lateral flow (LFD) tests across the South West of the country.
A number of possible explanations for these discrepancies were given, including compromised testing methods or user error – with most people opting to swab themselves at testing centres.
However, the UKHSA told a national media outlet that it has not seen a problem with incorrect test results on this scale before.
In West Berkshire, most complainants had received negative results from PCR tests at the showground site, subsequently contradicted by positive home tests.
Having lost faith in the Newbury site, many residents we spoke to said they had chosen to travel to out-of-area centres to get tested.
Penwood resident Barbara Taylor took her grandson to a site in Andover following a negative test at the showground.
The result from Andover came back positive, with her grandchild already displaying symptoms of Covid – and Mrs Taylor's daughter and son-in-law have now also tested positive.
As a retired research chemist, Mrs Taylor said she finds the phenomenon of false tests exasperating.
She said: "It's really impacting on families. I don't know what's going on. My daughter and my son-in-law have gone positive today on lateral flow, so they've had to go to Andover, they won't go back to Newbury again.
"I'm just concerned that there could be a lot of people walking around Newbury, thinking: 'Well, we can go on holiday, we've got a negative PCR test.'
"And it's not negative, because there's something going on."
The UKHSA – one of the foremost UK public health authorities – initially said there was not any evidence of issues with the testing process, nor had any new variants been identified.
Residents were advised to continue to use testing facilities. But last night West Berkshire Council issued a statement recommending anyone who took a PCR test between October 3 and 12 at the showground which came back negative to take a retest, as well as any of their close contacts.
Among others raising the alarm was Karla Taylor, who lives Compton with her husband and two sons.
Mrs Taylor, who works at a school, and her eldest son have both tested positive for Covid after a negative PCR test result from the showground site.
Both had received positive lateral flow tests, with Mrs Taylor going so far as to take four such tests from different boxes "just to make sure".
Subsequent PCR tests at the showground returned negative results – but a later test at an Oxford site also came back positive.
Mrs Taylor said: “My eldest son was showing symptoms and so I booked him a PCR test. That came back negative but something in my gut was saying it wasn’t right.
“His temperature was still high and he was sleeping all the time, which he never does.
“I ordered a home testing kit and we all did them, and me and my eldest son came back positive.
“If I had listened to that [PCR test] and gone out, I could have been spreading it."
And Mrs Taylor said she knows others who have had similar experiences.
She added: "I just want to pre-warn people to get the home testing kit or go to another site. I think people just need to be mindful.
“It’s hard for vulnerable people like myself and my son to go out now if people are getting false negatives. It definitely makes me nervous again.”