Slow response so far to Lancashire's targeted Covid testing programme

The military has arrived in Lancashire to help deliver a targeted Covid testing programme –  but so far, only one in four people invited for a swab has taken up the offer.

Thursday, 17th December 2020, 6:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th December 2020, 8:36 pm

Personnel will be in the county for six weeks to provide the “surge” in asymptomatic testing capacity promised by the government for areas in Tier 3.

The forces will also train people in key settings to carry out the so-called “lateral flow tests”, which provide rapid results because they do not have to be sent to a lab for analysis.

The rollout began on Monday and is initially focusing on major employment sites by invite only.

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Workers at major employment sites in Lancashire will be invited for a rapid-result Covid test

Figures presented to a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s full council revealed that 3,900 people have had the opportunity to take a test so far. However, just under a quarter of them opted to do so, according to the authority’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Shaun Turner.

“There is a bit of apathy, because [people are thinking]; ‘Well, it’s nearly Christmas – I don’t want to be isolating’. And there is [also an element of] people not wanting to not be working – and so not getting an income,” said County Cllr Turner, who explained that information about self-isolation payments was being provided to those invited for a test.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the programme will eventually be extended to operate from community bases such as churches, mosques and voluntary organisations. However, it is not yet clear what the arrangements will be for inviting people for a test – or if the service will be open more widely – when it starts to run outside of settings with clearly-defined cohorts of people such as workplaces.

Around three percent of over 900 people who have been tested this week have been found to be positive, councillors were told. They will then be able to have that status confirmed by taking a lab-analysed “PCR” test.

A meeting of Lancashire County Council’s health scrutiny committee heard that the Lancashire programme would not be on the scale of that seen in Liverpool, where 2,000 military personnel were deployed and everyone in the city was urged to get tested.

“For the employers and the community settings, we want them to [have] the ability to do those tests themselves – with a bit of training, it’s eminently doable,“ said Dr. Abdul Razaq, consultant in public health at the county council.

Analysis of a sample of people who took part in the Liverpool trial, published in the British Medical Journal, found that the lateral flow tests resulted in false positives in just 0.07 percent of cases – indicating that there is little chance of being told you have Covid-19 if you do not.

However, they returned false negatives in 51 percent of cases, meaning that the lateral flow test in those conditions missed more than half of people who were actually Covid-positive.

Asymptomatic testing was available in the parts of Lancashire worst-affected by coronavirus – including Preston and Pendle – for several weeks during the late summer.