The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory in Leamington Spa, which opened in the summer of 2021 at a cost of up to £1billion and was the largest of its kind in the country processing Covid 19 tests is now set to to close, with all but 50 of its 700 agency staff given 4 weeks notice.
Back in the summer of 2021 The Lowdown reported on the delays in opening the “mega lab” in the old Wolsley buildings in Leamington Spa, which was supposed to employ 600-plus people and take on the processing of millions of Covid tests, as part of the £37bn “test and trace” system chaired by Tory crony Dido Harding.
Harding had let slip to unions on the NHS Social Partnership Forum that a private company, Medacs, was to be given the contract to run the new labs, although like so many PPE contracts, the contract had not been advertised or put out to tender.
Medacs is a subsidiary of the multinational Impellam Group, chaired by former Conservative Party deputy chair and tax exile Lord Ashcroft.
By March it was clear that some staff were also being recruited by Sodexo on fixed term contracts to work in the megalab, making no mention of NHS terms and conditions, NHS Pensions, or UKAS accreditation.
The Leamington Courier reported an anonymous worker in the lab who warned that the lab and its staff would be left outside the NHS, and that people on universal credit were being recruited to a specific “trainee lab technician” role.
In June 2021 local MP Matt Western warned that:
“This is a scandal waiting to happen. I have heard from distressed residents waiting months to start jobs, many completely without income. I have heard from scientists who fear lack of regulation, poorly qualified staff and mismanagement at the facility.”
At its peak the lab was processing at the rate of 8.5 million tests per year. But now a statement from the UKHSA says it can scale up PCR testing quickly if required – for example, if a new concerning variant meant increased PCR testing was necessary or in the event of a future pandemic.
“Now that the number of PCR tests has reduced significantly, processing can be undertaken by existing NHS laboratories.”
Western, whose office helped the Independent investigation that revealed that the cost of the lab was up to double the initial projection of £588m, has now told the BBC he wants answers about the running of the lab:
“At the time it was not clear whether this way going to be an NHS facility or a private facility,” he said. Questions need to be asked about where those agency workers came from, who made money from that.”
And of course who stands to gain if another pandemic comes along and requires this or another lab to be reopened once again.
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