Cardiff University testing system called “fatally flawed”

Cardiff University testing system
Mr Evans has called the testing system "fatally flawed". Credit: Scarlett Griffiths
The former manager of Cardiff University's COVID-19 testing system has called the system "fatally flawed", a claim which has been rejected by Cardiff University.

By Tirion Davies | Editor-in-Chief

The manager of Cardiff University’s COVID-19 testing system has criticised the system, saying he stepped down from the role due to the system being “fatally flawed”.

Speaking with the BBC, Neil Evans said he did not believe results from the testing system were reliable ahead of the system’s launch before the autumn semester.

Evans claims the university were too eager to begin the rollout, and did so before the system was ready.

Mr Evans left his role as manager in September and Cardiff University’s system began in October.

What kind of testing system is in place?

Cardiff University has an asymptomatic screening service (meaning a test for students and staff without symptoms who may still be a carrier of COVID-19), aimed at stopping the spread of the virus amongst staff and students.

The University maintains its screening service was never intended to be asymptomatic testing service, noting that all positive tests would be confirmed by an NHS test. Cardiff University said their screening service has been successful in identifying hundreds of asymptomatic cases which were further confirmed by NHS testing.

The testing system at Cardiff University involves students and staff giving a saliva sample, which undergoes a PCR swab test, where students and staff will get their results usually within 48 hours.

The saliva-based testing used by the University is based on FDA protocols used in the United States of America, where studies have shown that saliva testing is often as sensitive in terms of viral load.

People with a positive test from the university will then be asked to get a NHS COVID-19 test to confirm their results.

What has Mr Evans said?

According to Mr Evans, who worked as a service manager at the Cardiff University testing centre in August and September whilst the system was still being developed, the university were attempting to introduce the service “at pace”.

Mr Evans believes the university needed more time to validate the system so that false positives and false negatives would not occur.

Mr Evans told the BBC, “You couldn’t trust the test results, fundamentally there’s no trust in any of the test results. So all of those students will be giving saliva under false pretences that you can get a result back either positive or negative”.

“The whole process needed a few more months and a bit more validation, a bit more accreditation, a bit more forethought and then, yes, it would have been a really good service” he added.

What was the response from Cardiff University?

Cardiff University has rejected Mr Evans’ claims, with a Cardiff University spokesperson noting, “We completely reject the claim that our screening service was not ready to go live”.

A Cardiff University spokesperson has claimed that the University does recognise, however, that there were initially some reservations about testing asymptomatic individuals during the summer of 2020.

Despite this, the University maintains that cases of asymptomatic individuals were contributing to the spread of COVID-19, and that asymptomatic cases of COVID are more common amongst young adults.

A spokesperson continued, saying the Cardiff University validation processes are vigourous and thorough, basing their result on “well-established PCR technology with 4 independent loci using multiplex technology”.

“During the summer of 2020 and after discussion with PHW, we were acutely aware of the fact that public health (NHS) labaratories used a swab-based PCR test, and that supplies of test reagents and swabs were in global short supply”.

“We used our expertise to build a screening pipeline that did not compete for equipment and reagents in demand by the NHS; in this way we would build a complementary service rather than compete with critically short reagants.”

Cardiff University notes any staff or student with symptoms of COVID-19 should always get a secondary test with the NHS to confirm whether or not they have the virus.

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