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Government ‘risks wasting a huge amount of money’ on weekly tests

People in England can have two rapid coronavirus tests per week from Friday, which can produce results in around half an hour.

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(Andrew Milligan/PA)

(Andrew Milligan/PA)

(Andrew Milligan/PA)

The Government risks “wasting a huge amount of money” on coronavirus testing unless more support is given to people to self-isolate, a scientific adviser has said.

Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), which advises ministers, said more financial and practical support is needed.

People in England can have two rapid coronavirus tests per week from Friday, which can produce results in around half an hour.

The lateral flow kits are available free of charge at approved testing sites, pharmacies and by post.

We're spending £37 billion on testing. It makes neither public health sense, nor economic sense, to waste that money for want of spending on giving people the support they need to self-isolateProfessor Stephen Reicher

Health ministers have said the tests will help spot any outbreaks as lockdown restrictions ease, and could help track the emergence of variants.

But critics of the programme say it is a waste of money.

Prof Reicher told Sky News the main reason for offering the public two lateral flow tests per week was to get them to self-isolate if infected.

“The problem is that, at the moment, we’re concentrating on that one piece of the system without thinking about the other parts,” he said.

“And the consequence is not only that people don’t self isolate… it also suggests that because people can’t afford to self-isolate, they don’t get tested in the first place.

“That was very clear last year when mass testing was done in Liverpool, where in deprived parts of the city only half as many people came forward for testing as in more affluent places.”

Prof Reicher said that, for some people, self-isolating is impractical or they lose pay and “the way out of that is just simply to avoid a test”.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

The solution is “something that has been suggested for months now, actually probably since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, which is that we need to give more support to self-isolation,” he added.

“To test people without thinking about what you’re going to do with those tests, making those things possible, is wasting a huge amount of money.

“We’re spending £37 billion on testing. It makes neither public health sense, nor economic sense, to waste that money for want of spending on giving people the support they need to self-isolate.”

Earlier this week, health minister Edward Argar told BBC Breakfast he expected the lateral flow tests to be used by people returning to work in the coming weeks as the “economy starts opening up again”.

He said fewer than one in 1,000 lateral flow tests gave a false positive result and refused to set an “arbitrary” date for when testing would end.

Mr Argar said the tests would be paid for as part of NHS Test and Trace’s funding of £37 billion over two years, with 80% of that expected to be used for testing.

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