Boris Johnson has been accused of pushing “completely false” claims about the success of mass testing.
Dr Angela Raffle, a consultant in public health and honorary senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, said the Prime Minister was wrong to accredit the fall in infection rates in Liverpool to the mass testing scheme, and claimed the trial results of lateral flow tests had been “falsely represented”.
Her comments come amid concerns that a trial in Liverpool missed half of positive cases.
Liverpool was chosen as the location for a mass coronavirus testing pilot scheme which saw everyone living or working in the city offered COVID-19 tests, whether or not they have symptoms.
In a speech last week, Johnson credited a reduction in cases in Liverpool to the mass testing scheme.
Speaking on November 26, he said: “Liverpool shows what can be achieved.
“In Liverpool, in the space of two and a half weeks, over 240,000 tests have been conducted and together with the effect of national restrictions, this has helped to reduce the number of cases in Liverpool City Region by more than two thirds.”
But according to reports, government figures suggest that mass testing in the city missed half of positive cases.
There have also been concerns over the effectiveness of the lateral flow devices (LFDs) used in the mass testing programme, with some parts of the care sector urged not to use them as a way of deciding whether to allow visits from relatives.
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Dr Raffle, a member of the National Screening Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The infection rate in Liverpool has come down no quicker than in many other places that haven’t got mass testing and we haven’t yet seen a proper evaluation report from Liverpool.
“So the claims that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health are making that there has been a three-quarters drop in Liverpool because of mass testing are completely false.”
She said: “It is very concerning to me that, with these lateral flow tests, the evidence on how they perform in the field has actually been kept hidden and falsely represented by the Government.
“When the Porton Down results (into the lateral flow test trials) came out, it was reported that they showed that the results were highly sensitive and specific, but actually they were only 58% sensitive in the trial that used quickly-trained staff – that’s in the Porton Down paper.
“For Liverpool, we’ve been promised the evaluation report but actually findings for how the tests performed in Liverpool have been buried in an appendix of the community guide to testing and they show that, in Liverpool, 30% of the tests that were ‘very infectious’ were missed, whereas in the Porton Down results we were told, oh no, it finds all the highly infectious ones.”
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