A leading GP has warned that people will not be able to use the COVID–19 home testing kits being sent out by the government, creating the risk of a second wave of infections.
Dr Gary Marlowe, London chair of the British Medical Association, told Sky News he feared that “a significant portion of those tests will be useless”.
This is because people performing the tests on themselves will not have “got to the right place to take the swab properly”.
To collect a sample of the virus in their systems, patients need to scrape a long swab against their tonsils and push it into their nose until it meets resistance.
“To do it oneself is really uncomfortable and difficult,” said Dr Marlowe, who has done that.
“My anxiety is that a significant portion of those tests will be useless.
“That means that there will be a significant amount of people in whom the test comes back as negative when they’re actually carrying the virus.”
He added: “As we come out of lockdown you’ll have people who are spreading the virus and will undoubtedly lead to a second wave.”
Dr Marlowe’s comments come as the first minister of Scotland warned that the focus on targets could put older people under pressure to take tests.
Speaking at the daily news conference, Nicola Sturgeon said: “This should not simply be an exercise in driving up numbers.
“Tests, particularly for frail, older people, can be invasive and unpleasant, so our decisions must be clinically driven.”
In order to meet the 100,000 tests a day target set and now reached by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the government has been sending out home testing kits to key workers and their families, care home residents and over-65s.
Each kit comes with instructions to guide people through the process. A short video is also available on the government website which runs through the process step by step.
A Department of Health spokesperson emphasised that a large body of peer-reviewed evidence suggests that self-swabbing is just as effective at collecting a sample of the virus as tests administered by doctors.
In March, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its guidelines to allow patients to swab their own noses or throats for the virus.
A scientist leading a research project for the government said he was confident people could manage the tests themselves.
“There is a little bit of discomfort with the throat swab and the nasal swab, but it is certainly manageable by members of the public,” said Professor Paul Elliot, chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London.
Professor Elliot’s team will send testing kits for COVID-19 to a randomly selected group of 100,000 people in England in order to understand whether the virus is at a level low enough to lift the lockdown.
The results will help scientists advising the government to assess the reproduction rate, or R, which the prime minister has said will be a crucial factor when the restrictions are reviewed on 7 May.
“We can analyse how much virus there is left in the community and very, very importantly, where it is distributed,” Professor Elliot told Sky News.
“Both geographically – so we’re going out to local authority area level to get local information – but also by age and sex and ethnicity.”
The Imperial College team will also send out a number of different antibody tests, which test whether people have had the virus in the past, to assess whether they can be used accurately and easily at home.
The tests will first be carried out on volunteers from Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust who are known to have had the virus, as well as 300 public volunteers who will also be given a sample test to self-administer.