Can lateral flow testing really help businesses?
On the 7th of February the UK Government expanded the roll out of lateral flow testing for business who had over 50 employees and who were unable to work from home.
What is lateral flow testing?
Lateral flow testing is presented as a fast and simple way to test people who are asymptomatic for Covid 19 but may still be spreading the virus. It is a swab taken from the tonsil area and the nose, this swab is then dipped into a solution and onto the device pad to await a result in 30 minutes, much like pregnancy testing.
Is it really that simple to implement?
Whilst the media and initial Government pages seemed to indicate Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) could access the tests easily, the reality is that businesses such as ours, with a workforce of over 60 people and small a management team, will struggle to implement the lateral flow testing.
This was a concern also voiced by the schools when lateral flow testing was initially suggested in January. They pointed out that rigorous training and management of the roll out in any sector is needed. If you access the Government portal to request lateral flow testing for your business, this takes you through an 11 page document and further training is required thereafter. It’s not exactly accessible!
How business models can affect the implementation of lateral flow tests
This posed several issues for our company. We provide commercial office cleaning to clients over 35mile radius, spanning four counties. Our business ethos is based around providing jobs for local people with experience in cleaning, not working out of a main base with operatives working from a fleet of vehicles. This means that our operatives span that coverage area too; some work part time and others are full time. Given these considerations, to test every member of our team once per week, at the same location, with the same manager overseeing this procedure would be completely impractical.
We decided that rapid lateral flow testing was going to be unworkable given the geographical spread of our clients and the work patterns of our operatives. We will partner and encourage our employees to participate in any testing on our client’s business premises, as and when required.
How lateral flow tests can help businesses
During our proactive research into lateral flow tests, we found out some surprising results from the studies that have been conducted around their use.
The lateral flow test did undergo trials, most notably in Liverpool and there were promising results of asymptomatic people being picked up.
Positively, there is no doubt that large companies have benefited from the Government offering rapid testing kits, companies like the Royal Mail, DVLA and Tate & Lyle have all recommended the tests and assert how the tests have helped their business to identify asymptomatic employees.
The weaknesses of the lateral flow testing system
However, people with a higher amount of virus present in their bodies were more likely to be picked up with lateral flow testing, than those with lower levels of the virus in their system. These people were more likely to go undetected as lateral flow tests are less sensitive to detecting the virus than the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing carried out at a test centre.
Concerns also remain with regards to the widening of lateral flow testing to smaller businesses. There are questions about the training of the person carrying out the testing and the willingness of employees to be tested.
Also, there is the issue of the limited sensitivity and accuracy of the lateral flow tests. The Royal college of Pathologists warns some results are false negatives and that this should be communicated amongst the public and especially within the workplace.
The British Medical Journal has also published several articles about lateral flow testing and one recent piece reinforced that workforces needed to guard against a false sense of security. Companies can’t use the implementation of lateral flow tests as a reason to grow lax in good hygiene practices, mask wearing and social distancing.
Don’t just rely on the tests themselves
It is obvious from all these discussions that businesses need to make informed decisions and good communication should be upheld. Lateral flow testing has its place within a set of measures to ensure the safety of employees and limiting the spread of this coronavirus, but we must continue to adhere to Covid secure working. Companies need to have robust, multifaceted Covid secure working practises to keep everyone safe. Testing has it’s place, but it won’t work for all SMEs and can’t be used as a one-step passport out of restrictions.
If you are interested in having your property deep cleaned as you prepare to reopen after Lockdown, contact us for a no obligation consultation.