A medical diagnostics company in Northern Ireland has branded claims made after an undercover investigation by Channel 4 into its Covid-19 testing facility as "inaccurate".
Channel 4's Dispatches programme last night broadcast the experience of an undercover reporter who worked at Randox as part of its examination into the Government's handling of the test and trace system.
It alleged there were "serious failings" at Randox's Co Antrim Covid-19 testing lab, with potential problems with how samples, sent from across the UK were handled.
Randox provides thousands of testing kits to care homes and individuals for use at home. It also processes tests from other suppliers.
However, Randox has rejected the claims made by the programme-makers, saying staff are adequately supervised and instructed on the need to ensure "samples are correctly processed".
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the firm told the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the programme's broadcast that some of the claims were "inaccurate", stressing it will respond in full once the programme has aired.
Dispatches claimed used tests sent to Randox for analysis were sometimes not unpacked properly and accidentally discarded, with the reporter alleging swab samples were mistakenly being thrown into the waste with cardboard packaging.
Randox, however, has dismissed the claim as a "complete misrepresentation", with the spokesperson insisting "all samples are unpacked for processing and safety checks are carried out on bulk boxes after they have been unpacked".
"On the very rare occasion a sample gets accidentally caught in the cardboard packaging (estimated one in 100,000) it is found and returned to accessioning," they continued.
"There are no recorded cases of samples going to waste.
"It is also physically impossible, should there ever be missed samples, for any staff member to 'get samples all over them' due to the stringent safety measures of the compactor/baler.
"Supervisors do continually stress and can occasionally embellish the importance of due diligence in accessioning, as was evidenced."
Accessioning is the logging or documenting of specimens at a lab, when they are received and sorted.
The reporter also claimed that one particular type of red-lidded test sent to Randox frequently leaked.
He estimated that one in 12 of the red-lidded test tubes he handled leaked and could spill over the gloves of employees.
He was told by one staff member that gloves were not always thrown away but sprayed down with disinfectant.
Undercover footage allegedly shows the tubes being freely mixed together with other test tubes in a cardboard tray.
During his time in the lab, he was allegedly told to place leaking samples, whether loose or still inside their bags, into a cardboard box which risked contamination.
The Randox spokesperson denied the claim, saying there is "no possibility of cross contamination" in relation to its accessioning processes.
"Valid samples are separated from leaked samples, whilst still in leakproof packaging, at the point of accessioning.
"Valid samples are wiped down with disinfectant once unpacked; disinfectant is clearly visible on the cloth being used to wipe the tubes, illustrating that tubes are disinfected.
"Tubes are then racked in an upright position," the spokesperson added.
Randox also told Dispatches that they were aware the red-lidded tubes are "more likely to leak". However, it said that they do not manufacture them, adding they had raised this issue in August.
Other claims included that Randox's high-paying 'VIP' clients, some of whom are from the rugby and travel sectors, were being given "priority" over some other tests.
The Co Antrim-based company, however, denied this, saying it "does not prioritise private clients" under any circumstances and denies that 'VIP' tests delay the processing of other tests.
The company also said the boxes which leaking tubes are discarded in are disposed of as "clinical waste" and there is "no cavalier approach to safety".
In July, up to 750,000 testing kits had to be recalled when spot checks revealed kits supplied by a Chinese manufacturer and sent out by Randox were not safe.
Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and current Conservative MP Owen Paterson currently earns £100,000 a year working for Randox as a consultant.
Earlier this month the government awarded a new £347m Covid-19 testing contract to the company, a six-month extension of the initial contract.
Gerry Caroll, People Before Profit MLA and health committee member, said the Dispatches allegations were concerning.
"These worrying reports reaffirm what some of us have been arguing all along; that private companies who operate on a for-profit basis should have no role in dealing with a public health pandemic," he said.
A Department of Health spokesperson said yesterday that Randox has been contracted by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to provide laboratory services for the national testing programme, which "operates through collaborative working with the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency".