Confusion and concerns over mass testing (updated)

Concerns over plans to test school children in England for coronavirus after regulator refuses to formally approve the daily testing of pupils. Voice Community continues to press the Government for answers and evidence. [Updated]

By Richard Fraser, Editor

15 January 2021

Media articles have raised concerns over the Government’s plans to test schoolchildren in England for coronavirus , reporting that the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), told the Government it had not authorised the daily use of 30-minute tests due to concerns that they give people false reassurance if they test negative.

[Update] The DfE has now said that mass testing in schools will still go ahead despite ongoing concerns. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is quoted as saying the report “is not true” and that “the MHRA has not refused to approve rapid testing in schools”. 

Further updates on 21 Janaury: Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace have today published a position statement on daily contact testing as a replacement for self-isolation in secondary schools and collegesFurther information here.

A recent survey of Voice Community members found that mass testing of staff and pupils (and priority for vaccination) would make frontline staff feel safer at work:

  • Regular testing of staff (70%) was the most frequently cited method of improving feelings of safety in the education workplace, with testing of pupils at 49%.
  • In schools, 71% felt that regular testing of staff would make them feel safer but 51% thought testing of pupils would improve safety.
  • In special education settings, 57% recommended testing for both staff and pupils.
  • In further and higher education, 60% were in favour of regular testing.

However, concerns remain about the Government’s testing programme (scroll down here). 

There has already been a lot of conflicting data around the effectiveness of the lateral flow tests (LFTs) – with some as low as 40%-50% effective. Clearly, this leads to concerns around false negative tests resulting in false reassurance for those who test negative and possible complacency over the Government’s ‘hands, face, space’ and ‘act as if you have the virus’ hygiene messaging.

Members need reassurance and answers.

Voice Community continues to press the Government for answers and evidence on the reliability of the tests, whether greater frequency of testing increases reliability, and how the mass testing programme is to be rolled out. 

Further information

FAQs: mass testing and vaccination 

FAQs Latest Updates primary and early years

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