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30th Jun, 2022

Investigation highlights serious concerns over operation of Leamington's flagship Covid testing lab

HUNDREDS of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash has been wasted on the Leamington Covid testing laboratory, it has been claimed.

An investigation by The Independent newspaper reported the Juno Drive laboratory had been plagued by major testing issues, allegations of cover-ups and was subject to numerous health and safety concerns.

The Independent’s probe was assisted by Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western who supplied contacts, information and asked Parliamentary questions.

The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory – the centrepiece of the government’s Test and Trace network – formally opened six months late in July last year.

The newspaper made multiple serious allegations including suggestions of ‘spiralling costs’, cover ups and that a worker was seriously injured on site.

Sources cited in the investigation claimed the project could be hundreds of millions of pounds over budget with an initial £588million allocated to it. Lab and treasury sources claim that, by February of this year, more than £1.1billion had been spent on the laboratory.

And sources in the articles alleged the site was now ‘under review’ and efforts had been made to ‘pull the plug’ on the project.

The damning newspaper report also referenced construction delays, inadequate training, sample contamination, rat infestations, Covid outbreaks and staff misconduct.

Mr Western has long been investigating the laboratory after he accused the government of ignoring his concerns about its opening date, the costs to the taxpayer and its association with multiple private companies.

The Labour MP said: “We were made aware of government-awarded contracts overrunning, staff being unable to start and widespread operational challenges – resulting in severe delays to the project.

“Of course, I want the laboratory to be an asset for the Warwick and Leamington community, for it to provide valuable jobs and for the persisting challenges to be overcome.

“But this involves openness, transparency, and willingness to engage with the public, the media and elected officials.

“Unfortunately, senior figures and the Department of Health have behaved in the opposite fashion – while staff appear coerced into silence.

“The contamination, and false positives that were processed, are extremely serious allegations – and must be investigated.

“And the extent of the waste of taxpayers’ money – unfortunately characteristic of this government – must be confirmed by the Department for Health.

“I call on all parties to work together to salvage a scheme that, eventually, could put Leamington on the map – for the right reasons.”

Mr Western also fears hundreds could still be cut from the 1,600-strong workforce, extinguishing hopes of the laboratory bringing 2,000 new jobs to the area which were initially promised by the government.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) – the body responsible for protecting the public from infectious diseases and which oversees Covid testing in Britain – issued a statement following The Independent’s claims.

A UKHSA Spokesperson said: “We take any complaints and allegations of wrongdoing very seriously, and will not hesitate to investigate and take action where appropriate.

“The Rosalind Franklin lab continues to play a critical role in the pandemic response, having already processed millions of tests to help stop the spread of Covid. Only four per cent of tests have been diverted to other laboratories in the network, which is a safe and routine part of operations.

“There are strict protocols in place to protect all our staff and ensure they have the right training, with rigorous quality assurance in place to maintain the safety and accuracy of our equipment.

“As the public would expect, budgets and spend are tracked through a robust governance process and are reviewed regularly, to ensure the best possible value for the taxpayer.”

 

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