Written evidence submitted by HCSA (COR0007)



HCSA is a nationally recognised trade union and professional association, which represents all grades of hospital doctor. The purpose of this briefing is to bring to the attention of the committee a number of ongoing issues with the testing regime for COVID-19


Top Lines





Comment from Dr Paul Donaldson, HCSA General Secretary:

“We are deeply concerned and frustrated at the systematic refusal to provide even basic information about the reliability of the testing regime. While significant information has been provided about the new antibody tests, a wall of silence seems to have been erected around issues relating the PCR tests, which have been used more than four million times.


“A reliable testing regime is central to the next stage of our response to COVID-19. Without a greater level of transparency being provided, we are unable to say with confidence that such a system is currently in place.


“Separately, statements by PHE officials and others place the incidence of false negatives somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. If confirmed, this is a worryingly high rate that raises the prospect of many infected individuals, possibly without symptoms, being passed fit to return to healthcare settings where they will transmit the virus to colleagues and patients.”




PCR tests and false-negative results















1 Mayo Clinic (2020) COVID-19 Testing: the threat of false-negative results. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(20)30365-7/pdf  2 Prime Minister’s Office (2020) PM statement on coronavirus: 12 March 2020.


3 NHS England and Improvement (2020). Letter to Chief Executives of NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts. https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/wp-content/uploads/sites/52/2020/03/urgent-next-steps-on-nhs- response-to-covid-19-letter-simon-stevens.pdf




         We would urge the committee to call on the Government and NHS bodies to ensure that greater clarity is provided around the interpretation of a negative test result. Individuals with a single negative test result must still be treated as potential carriers of the virus.





         However, while Public Health England recently released the full results of its assessment of antibody tests, there is no similar data publicly available about the PCR testing system, which has now been used more than four million times. This raises two important questions:


1.      Why haven't independent assessments of PCR been published assuming they have been made?


2.      What assessment has been done on true effectiveness of PCR tests in a field setting as opposed to lab-controlled environment?









4 BBC News (2020) Coronavirus: Weston hospital 'to be shut for at least a week.'








         We would therefore urge the committee to call for urgent transparency on this vitally important issue.



Antibody tests






5 Coronavirus: Screening: Written question – 41079. https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written- question/Commons/2020-04-28/41079/

6 Ibid

7 Coronavirus: Screening: Written question – 41081. https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written- question/Commons/2020-04-28/41081/

8 Coronavirus: Screening: Written question – 41081. https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written- question/Commons/2020-04-28/41080/

9 Coronavirus: Screening: Written question – 34319. https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written- question/Commons/2020-03-24/34319/




         While so much is unknown, the new test’s arrival should not simply be seen as a green light to reduce PPE and other protections for NHS staff who test positive.



June 2020