Extensive clinical evaluation from Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Oxford has demonstrated lateral flow tests – rapid turnaround tests which can process Covid-19 samples on site without laboratory equipment – are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community, including for asymptomatic people.
Most lateral flow tests generate results in under half an hour and are being piloted across England, as part of the Government’s strategy for testing the effectiveness of this new technology. Should these pilots prove successful, they will be pushed out more widely.
For example, the lateral flow tests being deployed in Liverpool have shown to have over 99.6% specificity.
PHE Porton Down and the University of Oxford tested newly-deployed tests in multiple settings, with their findings showing the tests to be highly reliable, sensitive and accurate.
Prior to commencing these pilots, DHSC commissioned independent research to gain further information on the specificity and sensitivity of the tests in different settings including hospitals, schools, and universities
The swabbing and processing of these tests must currently be conducted at a dedicated testing site by trained personnel.
The devices are designed to be intuitive and require minimal training to operate, and PHE and the University of Oxford are now looking at how this test could be self-administered.
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “We are absolutely committed to using the latest testing technology to make asymptomatic testing available in more areas.
“It is right we’ve taken a dual-track approach to evaluating this technology – by piloting them in the field so we can understand how to best to make these tests available, and by getting our world-leading academics and clinicians to undertake rigorous evaluation of their ability to detect the virus.
“I’m delighted that both are already demonstrating that lateral flow tests can be the reliable, highly sensitive technology we need to help get this virus under control, and return to as close to normality as possible.”
Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser, NHS Test and Trace, added: “These tests are proving to be accurate and reliable. And, importantly they’re able to detect Covid-19 in people without symptoms who could unknowingly be passing the virus onto others.
“Our evaluation work and the ongoing pilots are helping us to understand how lateral flow tests work in the field and how we may use them to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We are confident that these new tests, which have been rigorously evaluated, will make a real difference in how we protect people from this disease and help break chains of transmission.”