The government is “overselling” the accuracy of lateral flow tests, the cornerstone of the UK’s covid mass testing programme, according to a leading expert in the field.
Professor Jon Deeks criticised plans to use the tests to determine whether someone can enter nightclubs or stadiums, warning the government was “running ahead of their science programme”.
People in the early stages of infection may test negative, he warned, while others may never test positive at all throughout their period of infection.
It comes after the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) told the American public to stop using the tests and to return them to the manufacturer.
It issued a recall after carrying out an investigation earlier this year that found “significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health.”
However, the Department for Health and Social Care said it has “confidence” in the tests.
On Monday, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, confirmed plans to lift the remaining covid restrictions in England, though businesses and large events would be encouraged to use certification – evidence of being double-vaccinated, natural immunity through infection or a recent negative lateral flow test – in “high risk settings”.
Deeks, who is a professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, said: “The government appears to be running ahead of their science programme.”
“They have studies going on about this, we haven’t got any results from them yet, but they seem to be keen to make the policy, regardless of what the results are.”
“So we need to slow down on this.”
He explained that testing positive is a reliable indication you have covid, but testing negative does not mean you don’t have covid.
“So I think that the key message we’ve got at the moment is that we need to keep using those tests, but interpret them very cautiously.
“And be a little bit cautious to what the government’s telling us about them because they’re overselling them to us.”
In a statement to Politics.co.uk, the Department for Health and Social Care said: “We have confidence in lateral flow tests, which help us identify people without symptoms but who could pass the virus to others – helping to break the chains of transmission.”