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Lateral flow device and UK manufacturing capability

By January 7, 2022No Comments

As many of you will have seen there has been a lot of media attention to the source of the lateral flow tests provided by Test & Trace to the population over the last week, as well as concerns about lack of supply. This has led to political speculation, significantly on Wednesday and Thursday this week regarding why UK manufacturers, members of BIVDA, have not had contracts taken up.

Doris-Ann, supported by Ben Kemp and Ashleigh Batchen, briefed the Shadow Health Team on Tuesday afternoon in advance of questions being raised by the Deputy leader of the opposition after the Prime Minister’s Statement on COVID-19. The Alba party MP, Neale Hanvey, also obtained an adjournment debate on Wednesday evening on how contracts for PPE, diagnostics and vaccines were awarded.

The text from the debate can be accessed here.

The commentary from the media and the Government are giving rise to the belief that prior to the pandemic there had been no lateral flow manufacturing in the UK – the Prime Minister went as far as to state this on Wednesday in debate and it is recorded in Hansard:

“ PM: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is talking total nonsense. There was no manufacturing capability at all for lateral flow tests in this country, but we now have the largest single manufacturing plant for LFTs in Europe.”  (Note: The factory referred to is SureScreen who have licensed a test from China to manufacture and it is estimated they provide 15% of the tests used by Test & Trace).

Hence BIVDA has been drafting the following statement which is being finalised today and will go out as a press release:

“Recent statements relating to the lack of ability for the UK to manufacture lateral flow test devices have included information which has been misleading and distorted the facts. As the trade association representing nearly 200 organisations, which includes both British and global diagnostic companies, BIVDA would like to clarify these facts.

The UK Diagnostics Industry has suffered decades of underinvestment by public sector innovation funders, and poor adoption of its new products by the NHS due to fragmented procurement and treatment strategies.  The UK industry actually pioneered the global development and manufacture of lateral flow technologies. The many UK diagnostics manufacturers of advanced lateral flow tests have been driven to focus on export, both to other first world markets and for use in diagnosing disease in the developing world, where access to laboratory testing is difficult.

The unprecedented and welcome investment provided by the Government for increasing manufacturing capacity (and the raw material supplies required for this) during the pandemic should have been an opportunity to address a number of issues. Not only would this investment helped tackle Covid-19 head on but it would have ensured that the IVD industry, which responded immediately to the government’s call to action, was able to have a sustained future. Prepared for any future pandemic, allowing the British public to benefit from UK-based technologies and our Treasury to benefit from the jobs that would have been created in the diagnostics sector.

To be clear, procurement decisions were taken to source lateral flow tests from inside and outside of the UK and only to use the enhanced manufacturing capacity for UK tests that were bought by NHS Test & Trace. This once in a generation opportunity has not been fully realised and has instead damaged parts of the UK-based industry to a point of crisis and soured the relationships between an industry who instinctively stood up to be counted, and their government”.


Ben Kemp