A group of medical experts have expressed concerns over a COVID-19 anti-body test for health and social care staff.
The government has procured 10 million test kits month, with the first phase of the testing program, evaluating the NHS and social workers.
However, concerns have been raised in a letter published by the British Medical Journal. A group of academics and clinicians have expressed fears about the performance of the tests and warned that they risked” an inefficient use of scarce resources “.
They stated that a test result is positive or negative would not change the management of a patient, and added that a positive outcome” does not indicate immunity “.
The academics further argue that antibody results do not change PPE requirements, could place an unnecessary burden on the NHS and added there was little evidence of how well they work for those at highest risk, including the elderly and ethnic minorities, and are calling for an alternative approach to help monitor the spread of the virus.
The NHS England requires that the results of antibody tests are available within 24 hours.
However, the academics warn: “given that the routine testing of patients are not clinically urgent or to meet a public health need clear, this push to introduce a test not factual for uncertain gains risk is an inefficient use of scarce resources. ”
Prof Sir John Bell from Oxford University, who has advised the government on antibody tests, said the academics who wrote to the BMJ had underestimated the value of the tests.
“We do need to know how many people out there have been infected and the only way to do this is antibody testing,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But he said they were right to say there was not enough evidence that a positive test indicated immunity. “You couldn’t safely use it as a way of telling people whether they could be exposed or not,” he said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are offering antibody tests to NHS and care staff in England, with patients and care residents eligible at their clinician’s request. And we are also using antibody tests to support research studies.
“Antibody testing will improve our understanding of how coronavirus is spreading across the country, which will be vital for future decisions about controlling the virus.”