Northern Ireland medical giant Randox has said claims made in a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into its Covid-19 testing programme “grossly misrepresents” its hard work over recent months to quickly expand operations and play a key supportive role in the national effort to defeat the pandemic.
he programme, broadcast on Monday night, featured an undercover reporter who worked at the Co Antrim biotech firm as part of an examination into the Government’s handling of the test and trace system. Dispatches alleged there were “serious failings” at Randox’s Covid-19 testing lab, with potential problems with how samples, sent from across the UK, were handled.
Since March, Randox has provided thousands of testing kits to care homes and individuals for use at home, while processing tests from other suppliers. The firm has rejected the claims made by the programme-makers and insisted that “samples are correctly processed”.
Prior to Covid-19, as a testing machine and healthcare screening business, Randox was responsible for 5% of all diagnostics for infections and diseases in the world and 12% of all global cholesterol testing.
Mark Campbell, senior manager at Randox, said the company has spent the past seven months significantly pivoting its operations to support the Covid outbreak alongside its main diagnostic business.
“We recognise that Covid-19 testing is essential for the nation to return to social and economic normality so we are keen to play our part,” he told the Belfast Telegraph on a visit to the site on Wednesday. Since it was first signed up by the Department of Health in the spring, Randox has rapidly expanded its facilities at the former Massereene military base.
The firm has spent £47m redeveloping a 150m-long building to create four new diagnostic laboratories, a manufacturing facility assembling testing machines and developing its robotics for automation.
A further £21m will be spent on expansion to meet its latest contractual targets.
Earlier this month the Government awarded a new £347m Covid-19 testing contract to the company, a six-month extension of the initial contract to continue its role detecting the virus in the swabs from community testing programmes.
The firm employs Conservative MP and former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson as a consultant.
Randox has ramped up its testing capacity from 150 per day in late March to 80,000 daily by early November. On November 8, the firm surpassed 5m tests within the national testing programme.
The new contract will allow its capacity to increase to 100,000 a day in the new year and to 250,000 by March 2021.
On top of its existing 1,500 employees, Randox has hired more than 750 people this year, including students and those laid-off due to the pandemic.
They open and cleanse swab tubes for processing and work 12-hour shifts, four days on and four days off.
The company, which was founded by Dr Peter FitzGerald nearly 40 years ago, also recruited staff in science, engineering and manufacturing.
“We are satisfied professionally that we have responded well (to the pandemic) but we are very self-critical and recognise that there’s always room for improvement.
“We have achieved in six months what has never been done before to become the largest private Covid laboratory in the UK and Ireland.
“That’s a huge effort and not to be underestimated,” Mr Campbell said.
In July, up to 750,000 testing kits were recalled when spot checks revealed kits supplied by a Chinese manufacturer and sent out by Randox were not safe.
“Things have not always gone exactly as smoothly as we would have liked and clearly there are areas we have had to address. We are not complacent and we know that there’s more we can do,” he said.