Covid: Care homes 'failed' by rapid lateral flow test rollout, expert warns

16 April 2021, 00:13

An expert has criticised a rapid Covid test scheme
An expert has criticised a rapid Covid test scheme. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

England’s care homes are being "failed" by a flawed rollout of rapid lateral flow tests, an expert has warned.

Analysis of a pilot of a quick Covid test scheme found it had no impact on outbreaks.

A majority of staff across 11 Liverpool care homes carried out less than a third of the tests required over six weeks between December and January, according to a pre-print paper.

The research – carried out by the universities of Liverpool, Nottingham and Imperial College London – found there was no significant difference in the proportion of care homes with outbreaks, or the size of the outbreaks, compared to those not in the pilot.

It comes as The Guardian reported that mass coronavirus testing using lateral flow devices may be scaled back due to fears about the amount of false positives. The Department of Health told the newspaper there are "no plans to halt the universal programme".

Read more: Twice-weekly Covid tests for all in England to stop outbreaks 'in their tracks'

Dr Peter Buckle, principal research fellow at Imperial College London and study author, said: "This, to us, has not only failed the care homes, but probably created some long-term trust issues, I would have thought... between care homes generally and what's being advocated centrally, because it clearly has caused them a lot of concerns and worries and hasn't protected them in the way that they might have believed it would.

"I think the need to carry on having very robust testing is going to be with us for a very long time.

"And I think we have a duty of care to make sure that that testing is optimum.

Read more: Cheaper Covid tests could be used as PM aims to make travel 'easy as possible'

"Our research suggests that there are lots of problems with the existing testing system that need to be resolved quickly."

Authors of the Liverpool pilot analysis found lateral flow device tests (LFD), which can give results in less than half an hour, will not prevent outbreaks if issues are not addressed.

Staff work burdens, employees having to go to the workplace during time off for a test and accuracy concerns were among the problems identified.

Experts have said the rapid tests can find people who are most infectious and more likely to transmit the virus.

Care home staff in England take two lateral flow tests and one lab-assessed PCR test a week, while the pilot saw staff take two at their workplace.

Only 8.6% of staff took and logged more than 75% of the required tests.

Read more: Two visitors allowed for care home residents in England

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Around one in three people do not show any symptoms of infection and, as we navigate the road map out of the pandemic, rapid lateral flow devices and PCR tests are vital weapons in our arsenal, detecting under the radar cases and helping to keep our most vulnerable safe.

"The testing regime for care home staff uses both LFD and PCR, which combines the rapid results of LFD testing, with the higher sensitivity of PCR tests.

"We remain committed to the use of these rapid lateral flow devices in care homes, and we are in touch with care homes with lower-take up rates to provide additional support."