BBC Panorama investigated Milton Keynes coronavirus lab

The BBC's long running documentary series covertly filmed a Milton Keynes centre in its latest investigation.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 10:03 am

Yesterday's (March 29) episode which aired at 7.30pm on BBC One covertly filmed inside the UK Biocentre in Java Park in Tilbrook.

The filming exposed evidence of potential contamination, discarded tests and pressure to hit targets, diminishing the quality of the work carried out on the site.

The centre at Milton Keynes is one of the lighthouse labs established by the UK Government to analyse Covid-19 tests. The lab has the capacity to process up to 70,000 tests each day, it is one of seven labs of its kind in the country, they are all ran by Biocentre UK, a not-for-profit organisation.

A Milton Keynes Coronavirus lab was the focus of a BBC Panorama documentary
A Milton Keynes Coronavirus lab was the focus of a BBC Panorama documentary

Dr Tony Cox, CEO at UK Biocentre, defended the work carried out at the lab, saying: "In March 2020 when we were asked to assist with the challenge of developing Covid testing, UK Biocentre immediately stepped forward. We are a not-for-profit organisation processing more than a million tests every month, thereby contributing significantly to the national pandemic response.

"We have done so accurately, with a sample void rate as good or better than other substantial testing centres in this country, and authoritatively, given we first identified the Kent variant. Our test positivity rate closely tracks the average for the UK’s broader national testing infrastructure, providing reassurance that our results are robust and trustworthy.

“It is important to remember that the UK has built, from scratch, a high quality testing infrastructure to combat a disease that was largely unknown a year ago.

"Staff at UK Biocentre have worked tirelessly alongside colleagues at DHSC, PHE and in the NHS to provide vital testing capacity. This programme presents an incomplete and selective representation of our efforts. In fact, many of the allegations date from a time the lab was operating under a unique period of pressure at the start of this year due to the second wave of the pandemic.

“We keep all of our processes under constant quality review and we are confident that they are in line with industry best practice, ensuring both the provision of accurate test results and the safety and wellbeing of our staff. We have external validation to this effect.

"This month a Health and Safety inspection confirmed that the laboratory continues to implement safe operational practices to meet the guidelines of the HSE, and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service has recommended us for accreditation to ISO15189, a gold standard for quality and competence in medical testing laboratories.”

BBC reporter, Jacqui Wakefield, worked 18 shifts undercover on the site to expose examples of malpractice. She worked with technicians preparing and processing PCR test samples.

Her filming shows what appears to be rushed testing practices, samples being placed in the wrong areas to risk contamination, swabs being left unattended and a quality control scientist stating the quality of the results progressively got worse throughout the day.

The programme is available to watch on demand on the IPlayer.