Government must ‘proceed with caution’ on mass testing, as BMA voices concern about accuracy of results

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Monday 5 April 2021

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, has responded to the Government’s announcement on twice-weekly mass testing in England.

He said: “The rollout of rapid twice-weekly testing for all adults could help to identify some cases of those who have Covid-19 but don’t show symptoms which would otherwise go undetected – if those people then self-isolate this will minimise spread.

“However, it is vital that the public is made aware of the limitation and accuracy of these tests. Recent research into lateral flow tests suggests they can pick up about over half of people with symptoms but significantly fewer of those who have Covid-19 but don’t have any symptoms.1

“Further, there is evidence of even a lower detection of positive cases if people carry out the tests themselves.

“Therefore, negative tests could provide false reassurance to many people who have Covid-19 but do not have symptoms and who will be contagious. If they then mix more freely, that could be seriously counterproductive and rapidly spread infection.

“Given concerns about the level accuracy of these tests, the BMA believes the Government must therefore, proceed with caution and a negative test must not be used as a basis for people to mix without mitigations, but should only be used as a complementary exercise to other vital measures, such as social distancing and the wearing of face masks in public spaces. These tests must not be used as a mechanism of how to unlock the country.

“Indeed, positive lateral flow tests should be confirmed by a PCR test wherever possible as well as to help identify new variants, and clear trigger points set out if cases rise again.

“Crucially, we need to see more detail about how these tests will work, including how results will be assured – especially if people are able to self-test and declare their own results. It is equally important that this should be trialled for its effectiveness.

“It’s essential that proper support is in place so that those who need to self-isolate after testing positive are not adversely impacted financially, considerably less rigid eligibility criteria than at present.

“Fundamentally, vaccine uptake must continued to be encouraged, especially among those most vulnerable who are still not vaccinated - it is this, widespread vaccination, that is ultimately the most important route back to normality."


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1. For the full research, please click here.