Why I ended up spending hundreds of pounds on Covid-19 home testing kits

When Irish News digital editor Susan Thompson became worried that her one-year-old son and the family's childminder may have coronavirus, she spent hundreds of pounds on home testing kits produced by a local company. She asks why the NHS is not ramping up testing to fight the spread of the disease

Irish News journalist Susan Thompson and her 22-month-old son Bryn Butterwick

My story may sound familiar to some of you and for others it may even help you at some point during this pandemic.

In short, it’s a story of how and why I ended up spending hundreds of pounds on Covid19 test-at-home kits from Randox Laboratories, a Northern Irish medical testing company.

Around 10 days ago my four-year-old son developed a dry cough.  It was not long after the schools in the Republic of Ireland had closed and a week before schools here followed.

We pulled our kids out of primary school and watched the four-year-old like a hawk. It didn’t develop into anything else. Phew.

But then our 1-year-old got the dry cough. He became quite ill.

He was retching during his coughing fits. His breathing was fast and heavy. And he had a temperature.

He was very sick and a couple of times late at night my husband and I discussed whether we needed to take him to hospital when his breathing sounded particularly strained. But morning would come and he would perk up a little.

The stress of a sick child is bad enough. But added to that was the worry gnawing away at us about his grandparents and great aunts who had been in contact with him.  Some of them have underlying health issues.

Of course we had stopped all contact with them when the cough began but they had been in his company in the days before.

Then our beloved childminder started to cough. Again it was a dry cough which was almost RETCH like. She would become out of breath just walking up the stairs. She and her partner self-isolated.

I was sick with worry.

But the NHS are not testing cases like ours – a policy I personally disagree with.

So I started to do a bit of research and as we all know in Northern Ireland - it is a very small world - I quickly discovered a local company - based on the rural road I was brought up on outside Crumlin, and founded by one of my neighbours - was selling tests over the phone for £120 each.

Randox was founded by Dr Peter FitzGerald and is based on The Diamond Road, where my parents still live. My mother and young Peter used to travel on the same school bus together. My late nan was very fond of Dr Fitzgerald’s parents and very proud of their son’s achievements. Some of my relatives still work at Randox.

I called Randox Health and ordered the tests last Wednesday. They arrived on Monday. The lady I spoke to on the phone said the demand had been phenomenal, thousands of enquires every day.  

The instructions with the kit were easy to follow. Simply circle the soft tip of the swap around the back of your throat, as if you are tickling your tonsils. Use the same swab to circle five times up each nostril.

Then fill in your details and return the swab into the sample collection tube and in turn insert that into the transportation tube.  Post it and ring Randox to tell then it is on its way.

We carried out a test on my 1-year-old and our childminder. If the test returns positive for covid19 then we have a couple of tests at hand to give to our more vulnerable relatives (they will kill me for describing them that way!).

Many of you will empathise with the ‘not knowing’ being such a big part of the stress of this pandemic.

The thought that we could have unwittingly passed this invisible enemy onto the more vulnerable in my family is one of the worst feelings I have ever had.

It was a lot of money. But we quite often have to spend this sort of money on our cars so I felt it was an obvious investment into the health of our family.

Dr Fitzgerald declined an interview – even with his old neighbour(!)  - because understandably he is incredibly busy at the moment.  

What I was told is that Randox spent £305 million developing the test which was launched in January. It has sold covid19 kits to laboratories, hospitals and governments across the world.

How many has the NHS bought, you may well ask? None.

I asked Randox had there been any communication with the Department of Health, they diplomatically replied:   

“Whilst the Department of Health has not yet requested any tests for use, we are mindful of the pressures they are under and are appreciative that they will review all viable options. Randox always takes care to engage on a cost-effectiveness basis and has the capacity to enhance testing within Northern Ireland’s NHS to conduct COVID-19 testing at an extremely competitive price.”

I asked the Department of Health why there had been no contact and I await a response.

Why does this baffle me? This is why.

One province in Italy called Veneto tested all 3,300 residents in the town of Vo’ Euganeo after an outbreak and quarantined all 89 positives, half of whom had no symptoms of Covid19.

Twelve days later eight new cases were reported. Yesterday there was none.

“It’s the invisible positives with no symptoms who are most worrying,” said Professor Crisanti, professor of microbiology at the University of Padua, who is urging Italy to intensify its lockdown with mass testing. “For the UK I would advise systematic testing and targeted lockdowns where clusters are found.”

Experts say the NHS is lagging behind other countries in scaling up testing capacity, despite the World Health Organization saying that mass testing is key to defeating coronavirus.

According to The Times South Korea has carried out more than 300,000 tests, Germany has topped 400,000 while Britain’s total stands at 84,000. Spain is carrying out more than 15,000 tests a day.

I do wonder why, when we have a local and willing company that our Department of Health can’t even pick up the phone and discuss the possibility of buying these kits?

PS my one-year-old and his childminder are over the worst of what may or may not have been coronavirus and feeling a lot better. We await with interest the result which should be with us by the end of the week. 

More information on the Randox Covid19 test-at-home kit visit available here.

UPDATE: Randox told be this morning: "We, and others, continue to work with Government to assess how our capability can best be utilised to counter the significant threat faced by our vital public services."  


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