Law group threatens to sue over Immensa Covid testing scandal | Health policy



The health secretary is facing legal action over the Immensa testing fiasco, in which about 43,000 people have been given false negative Covid results since September.The Good Law Project has sent a pre-action letter to Sajid Javid seeking answers over the scandal, which some experts believe has contributed to a rise in coronavirus cases in south-west England.The project, led by Jo Maugham QC, said it was asking the health secretary and UK Health Security Agency to terminate Immensa’s contracts immediately, compensate the individuals affected and take action to properly regulate private testing firms. It says it will sue if its requests are not met, arguing there have been breaches of public law duties and the Human Rights Act.The letter says: “The false negatives and the defendants’ unlawful failure to adequately monitor and regulate Immensa’s performance have exposed the affected individuals, their families and communities to grave risks and in many cases harm.”Downing Street has denied claims that the false Covid test results from the Wolverhampton lab were to blame for a sharp rise in cases in south-west England, saying the region may have been catching up with the rest of the country.Immensa was founded in May 2020 by Andrea Riposati, a former management consultant and owner of a DNA testing company. Three months later, the Department of Health awarded it a £119m PCR testing contract. Riposati is the firm’s sole listed owner and board director.The award of the contract in autumn 2020 bypassed the normal competitive procedures, which the government said was necessary because of the urgency of the need for testing during the pandemic. Immensa was subsequently given a further £50m testing contract in August 2021.The Guardian has learned that Immensa won a separate £12m contract in relation to genomic sequencing as recently as September this year, raising questions over whether this would have happened if the problems regarding the Wolverhampton lab had been spotted sooner.Since the scandal broke it has emerged that Immensa was not fully accredited with the UK Accreditation Service. It was already the subject of an investigation into its sister company, Dante Labs, by the Competition and Markets Authority into its travel tests. Riposati is also the founder of Dante Labs.The Department of Health promised to look into behaviour at the Wolverhampton lab after a Sun on Sunday report about workers there allegedly fighting, sleeping, playing football and drinking on duty. The government said at the time it would speak to Immensa as it took “evidence of misconduct extremely seriously”.The Guardian also found that Dante Labs in the US had sent out used DNA test kits filled with other customers’ saliva. After the incident in 2018, Dante Labs issued a statement saying five people received “used kits” as a result of an error by its shipping provider, with Riposati saying he took “full responsibility”.Maugham said: “We don’t know why government chose to sidestep established testing facilities in universities and hospitals to send £119m to a newly formed private company. But the consequences have been catastrophic. Many people are likely to have lost their lives. We want answers for their families and the tens of thousands of others whose lives have been blighted by the government’s inexplicable disregard for public health.”A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Immensa laboratory in Wolverhampton passed an independent quality audit overseen by NHS Test and Trace and is in the process of UKAS accreditation.”Separately, the Good Law Project has previously forced disclosures from the government about VIP access for favoured companies during the pandemic. Its legal proceedings also revealed that Lord Bethell, then a health minister, replaced his phone before it could be examined for information relevant to £85m of deals that are subject to a legal challenge.Government lawyers said Bethell had not been issued with a “preservation notice” requiring him to save documents because ministers’ official correspondence was routinely saved as a matter of course. However, this did not cover government business conducted by private means.Bethell, who oversaw the award of Covid contracts and is no longer a minister, is one of those under scrutiny over the way deals for personal protective equipment (PPE) and tests were awarded at the height of the pandemic.



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