One of the most interesting and relevant developments in recent weeks has been the approval of a number of ‘rapid tests’ that can be conducted at your home or office, and offer results within 15-30 minutes from having a swab taken. Undoubtedly the advancement in this technology could have a significant positive impact for many individuals, families and businesses. However, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, it is vitally important to understand the limitations of any new technology, and look at how best to utilise it.
These new tests are available from a number of manufacturers, and whilst the technology is essentially the same, all have CE approval across Europe, yet only some have been approved by the government (PHE) – the others have simply not been evaluated.
Practically, the test involves a swab being taken from the nose and throat (as in the lab based PCR test), but this is mixed with a reagent on site, and then applied to a small cassette (akin to a pregnancy or antibody test).
- ‘Point of care’ testing ie. at your home, or workplace
- Rapid ‘positive/negative’ results within 30 minutes (even quicker for some)
- Price – significantly cheaper than laboratory based tests.
- Done correctly, the data suggests they are as accurate as a lab based swab test
- They are currently only approved ‘for health care professional use’. This means that they cannot be self administered, and as such are not a ‘DIY test’. It would be illegal to supply them for such purposes.
- IMPORTANTLY, these tests are not currently accepted for ‘fit for fly’ purposes. At the time of writing the Transport Secretary has announced that these tests will start to be implemented from 15th December in order to reduce the 2 week self isolation period after return travel to the UK.
- Currently a lab based certificate of negative testing is required for travel to most destinations. So, whilst the rapid test may very well reduce the time spent in isolation on return, it is unlikely, at this stage, to replace the need for a PCR swab for travel in the first place.
- Unlikely to be accepted for any other scenario where official laboratory certification is required.
What does this mean in practice, and how will it help you?
We envisage a number of scenarios when official laboratory based testing and certification IS NOT required, including:
- Protecting the vulnerable, especially over the holiday period, when patients are being visited by carers, nursing staff, or close members of family that are supporting them.
- Enabling safe and informed mixing of ‘bubbles’. Obviously we are unaware of the rules that may come into play over this period, but reassurance may be helpful.
- Children who have been sent home from school with a fever, or older children returning from university, who are clinically unlikely to have COVID. Testing in this scenario may enable an early return to school/college, although it seems acceptance is likely to be down to each individual school (at least at this stage).
- Business owners employing staff. Widespread laboratory based testing is practically and economically unviable for most. Regular, rapid testing on-site now becomes a viable option.
Dr Simon Gillson
Dr Karl Braine