Caught up in the Immensa Covid-19 test scandal – a Somerset family’s story

Fellow readers have surely heard about the Immensa scandal by now, which has affected us here in the South West. Their Wolverhampton laboratory was sending false negative Covid test results to people on an alarming scale from September to October. There have been lots of graphs and analyses about this scandal in the press:

but it’s difficult to understand the impact of this on a human level. I wanted to write in to help fellow readers understand how it has affected my family and me.

I live in Somerset. I have two young children, a 1 year old and a 4 year old. Cast your mind back to August. Like other parents up and down the country we were getting excited about schools and nurseries reopening after the summer holidays. Joy! Children belong with other children, running around, learning, playing, and developing. However, I’m a school governor so I know firsthand that the Government had done basically nothing to prepare schools for the start of a new academic year except tell them to open the windows. There was no mask requirement, no bubbles, no isolation for close contacts, no requirement for lateral flow device testing (for primary school children), and no carbon dioxide filters. Nothing. So as a family we were a little nervous about sending our children in. But (we reason), there was always Test & Trace – if everyone was doing their bit and getting tested when they had symptoms then we should be OK.

Or so we thought.

After the first week of being back at nursery, our eldest developed Covid symptoms. In fact, the whole family came down with something. So, we did the right thing and rushed off to the nearest drive-through test centre for a round of PCR tests. If you’ve never done a PCR on a 1 year old or a 4 year old, let me tell you: it is stressful! Nevertheless, it’s all part of the world we now live in.

Result: negative. Phew. So we sent them back into the nursery and all carried on as normal, assuming we had nothing more than a bad bug.

Three weeks later, none of us were feeling 100% but our youngest was worrying us the most as he was sneezing all the time. Apparently, it’s a possible Covid symptom in very young children. Off for another round of PCR tests…

Result: negative. Phew. We all carried on as normal.

Fast forward another week (mid-October), and our eldest was coughing and had a fever. Surely this was Covid – so we all trotted off for another PCR test.

The children were all negative. As was their mum. My result came in last… positive!

But then, moments later, chaos reigned. We received texts to say that our last two rounds of PCR tests should be ignored. The text read “there may have been an issue with the result”. That was it. No explanation. I was apparently Covid positive, though, albeit (and thankfully) with no symptoms. Yet I could have been Covid positive weeks ago. Maybe that headache 3 weeks ago was Covid? Do I have Covid right now, or is this positive result a consequence of having had Covid in September? We’ll never know, because the Immensa scandal means I likely received a false negative.

What to do? According to government guidance it’s only me that has to isolate. However, we decided to ignore that. We agree to enter isolation as a family. It was not easy with two young children. My wife (a GP) worked tirelessly (and stressfully) from home. I attended meetings via Zoom. The children kept asking why they couldn’t go outside. Constantly.

The dreadful thing about all of this is that during September we all continued as normal. Why wouldn’t we? We thought we were negative! We went to large family gatherings. We met friends for lunch. We sat in cafes. We sent our children to the nursery. As a result, the list of contacts I had to give to Test & Trace was enormous.

Fortunately, and crucially, I chose to ignore another piece of government guidance: I acted as if the mask mandate had never been lifted in July. That simple act alone might have stopped someone from getting Covid from me.

I just don’t understand why it has to be like this? Why did the government lift the mask mandate in July? How did we end up with a Covid testing laboratory that isn’t accredited?! This government has a lot to answer for.

Anonymous, South Somerset