Norwich company boss slams government 'shambles' over lateral flows

Sam Carpenter watches as Stuart Bedford carries out the lateral flow test on the new Covid-19 mobile

Sam Carpenter watches as Stuart Bedford carries out the lateral flow test on a Covid-19 mobile testing bus - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The boss of a Norwich company that makes a range of medical testing products is urging the government to back British in order to ramp up production of lateral flow tests.

Dr Berwyn Clarke, chairman of Iceni Diagnostics, based at The Innovation Centre on the edge of the city, said Britain's diagnostics industry was advanced and sophisticated - but that the government's handling of test distribution was "a shambles".

Dr Berwyn Clarke of Iceni Dianostics. Picture: Iceni Dianostics

Dr Berwyn Clarke of Iceni Dianostics. Picture: Iceni Dianostics - Credit: Iceni Dianostics

The technology chief said strict criteria set by the government of approving Covid tests meant only one UK-made test is being used for community testing out of around 50 assessments.

He added the rest of the tests have been flooded by overseas developers which he claims did not go through the same amount of rigorous tests as UK-made tests.

Dr Clarke said: "The right tests are here but the government needs to step up and prioritise and support the UK industry.

"I'm sure if the government was well enough organised there wouldn't be a problem with the current supply. It smacks of incompetence.

"The UK diagnostics industry is clamouring to be part of the process. The tests out there are good enough and can be made by the UK industry at a volume needed for the NHS. It is a shambles and ridiculous."

The chairman believed the current lateral flow tests were good enough to test for coronavirus and praised the government that they were available for free.

Covid Lateral Flow Test (LFT)

A Covid lateral flow test box - Credit: Holly Chant

Most Read

In 2020 his company developed a quick test which could separately identify flu and Covid.

But after positive government talks, he says its 500 samples were turned away without being tested because they were testing for both viruses - not just Covid.

He believed Covid was something we would have to live with and the virus would become similar to the common cold.

Dr Clarke added the current lateral flow tests were effective at picking up different Covid variants and the tests are nearly always accurate. 

A spokesperson from the UK Health Security Agency spokesperson, an executive agency, sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “In building the largest diagnostic industry in UK history, we have delivered 400 million tests since the start of the pandemic, playing a vital role in tackling the spread of Covid-19.  

“NHS Test and Trace has drawn on expertise from across the public and private sectors and all contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines.”

Call for regular testing to keep schools open

Erin Horn looking in a mirror while taking a Lateral Flow Test as pupils return to school for the fi

Erin Horn looking in a mirror while taking a lateral flow test - Credit: PA

University and school pupils and staff are being encouraged to use lateral flow tests regularly to stop the spread of Covid.

The Department for Education wants people to test themselves twice each week and have set up a priority route for schools to order kits.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid's announcement that ministers expect a need to "constrain" supply to the general population for a fortnight amid surging demands sparked concerns over supply.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "If lateral flow tests are to be critical to enabling pupils and staff to return to school quickly then there must be a ready supply available for schools as they go back in January and throughout the term."