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Coronavirus / Health board reports lab company to trading standards over sale of coronavirus test kit

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

NHS SHETLAND has reported an England-based laboratory company to trading standards over a coronavirus testing kit which had recently been advertised for sale by a Lerwick business.

The Lerwick-based company said in a now deleted Facebook post that it would soon be selling the test from Regenerus Labs, which also promised to allegedly test antibodies to indicate if people already had Covid-19 and were potentially immune.

The isles business  had said the test would be charged at £40 to cover staff time, postage and admin as it did not want to “profiteer” from the pandemic.

But NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson told Shetland News that there is no such antibody test that is commercially available to the general public.

The health board got in contact with Surrey-based Regenerus Labs, as well as the Lerwick company, about the test after concerns were raised by a staff member.

“We must stress that our issue wasn’t with the individual in Shetland but rather with unscrupulous commercial organisations seeking to make money based on people’s fears and anxieties at this time,” Dickson said.

Regenerus Labs has been offering ‘Rapid IgM-IgG Combined Antibody Tests’, although it can only be bought for health professional use only.

It said initial stocks had sold out, and currently due to “supply chan issues” it is unable to accept more orders.

The company, which was founded in 2013 to “provide a reliable and all-encompassing service to the healthcare industry enabling practitioners and their patients to discover the missing pieces of the modern day wellbeing puzzle”, also said it would be donating 25 per cent of sales to frontline workers.

Dickson explained that the only testing taking place is through the NHS and that it is about checking for the virus but not for antibodies or immunity.

At the moment people who are clinically ill with Covid-19 symptoms and staff are being tested by the NHS, with people will mild symptoms told to isolate at home.

Dickson said there are currently no validated or trusted commercial testing kits available to the public and that antibody tests were only being done in specialist labs.

The test was purported to be the same as those used at the new temporary Nightingale hospital in London.

“Additionally these products are not approved for use by the NHS, and due to the concerns about their efficacy nor would we use them,” Dickson said.

Dickson said the health board had spoken to a person at Regenerus Labs, who said the test was CE marked – a product certification relating to the European Economic Area – and was “developed in China after the Wuhan outbreak”, which is the source area of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The person we spoke with said she wasn’t clinical so couldn’t answer any questions about the evidence base of the test,” Dickson said.

“Because we were concerned we made the decision to report this company to trading standards in Surrey who are looking into the matter as they consider this a serious issue.

“Fundamentally this type of marketing preys on people’s fears and anxieties.

“Most concerning is that should a patient use one of these ‘kits’ to get a result and test negative – even though they have the virus – they could break their isolation and infect many, many people potentially inadvertently leading to the deaths of others who may be infected.”

Regenerus Labs has been contacted for comment.

Dickson, meanwhile, also warned that anyone being approached about using alleged machines to home-test for the virus should contact the police.

“I’ve never heard such utter garbage in my entire life,” he said about machines in a live Facebook broadcast on Wednesday.

He said machines used generally by the NHS are regulated, and if they are not regulated then they are effectively meaningless.

“No one is using ‘machines’, [and] no-one is selling commercially available tests that are proven or work,” he said.

“All of this falls into the category of fake products.”

Shetland Islands Council’s trading standards team, meanwhile, said it is “important that everyone continues to remain vigilant and alert for any and all attempts by criminals to use the current circumstances as an opportunity to make money out of people’s difficulties and concerns”.

It said it is aware of an “ongoing scam within Shetland which includes the promotion of ‘medical machines’ with claims that these can detect and/or cure various illnesses including coronavirus”.

“We are working on this in conjunction with other enforcement partners,” trading standards team leader David Marsh said, “and have received valuable assistance from people across the wider Shetland community.”

For the latest advice visit the NHS Inform website.