People urged to report Covid home test results after PCR follow-ups halted in England

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the shift reflected the high accuracy of the tests

People are being urged to register the results of home Covid tests after the announcement that follow-up PCRs will be suspended for asymptomatic people with a positive lateral flow test in England.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the shift reflected the high accuracy of the tests and prevalence of coronavirus, which means the chances of false positives are low. However, the new system will rely more heavily on people registering their own positive test result.

A spokesperson said: “From the 11th, we would really encourage people to register results, especially if they’re positive, there is a greater need for that.”

Lateral flow test results already feed into official daily Covid case numbers and, in England, represented almost a third of reported cases on 31 December.

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, the chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: “It will become much more important that people report positive lateral flow tests otherwise nobody will know what’s going on. There’s already a problem with daily cases, with people not getting tested or not reporting results.”

The change will apply only to those in England taking routine lateral flow tests who do not have any symptoms of coronavirus, and they must still report their result on and self-isolate for the minimum seven days. Anyone with any of the three main Covid symptoms listed by the government, which are a high temperature, persistent cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste, must self-isolate, take a PCR test, and await the results.

UKHSA said lateral flow devices (LFDs) were most effective for people without symptoms, with 80% accuracy in finding the people with high viral loads who are most infectious. The agency added that for every 10,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there are likely to be fewer than three false positive results.


The agency added that this approach replicated the one taken between January and March last year, when confirmatory PCR tests were also suspended.

Jenny Harries, UKHSA’s chief executive, said: “While cases of Covid continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate Covid-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation.”

There are a small number of exceptions to the change, including people eligible for the £500 test-and-trace support payment, people participating in research and surveillance programmes, and the 1 million people at risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus who have been contacted by the NHS.

The care minister, Gillian Keegan, told the Today programme that the change was intended to reflect the “accuracy and the amount of lateral flow tests” rather than expressly to curb staff shortages. She said there were “no immediate plans” to reduce the seven-day minimum isolation period down to five if a negative lateral flow is obtained, but added that it was “a reasonable question to ask” and one that was being considered by scientists.

About 1 million people are thought to be isolating due to Covid, causing widespread absences and disruption across essential services, including healthcare, police and food processing.

Hospitals are reporting that they are struggling to cope with staff absences, with several declaring critical incidents and 17 in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend some non-urgent surgery as 15% of staff were off sick. An internal memo from the North East ambulance service foundation trust suggested that call handlers recommend people suffering from a heart attack or stroke get a lift into hospital from friends or family.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told the Today programme that healthcare absences were averaging at about 10%, with Covid the biggest reason, but that this figure was much higher in some hospital trusts.


He approved of the plans to remove the confirmatory PCR “as long as it’s based on the science” and not on “politics and blind hope”, and welcomed any measures that could ease pressure on hospitals, which are asking staff on leave or rest days, or who are recently retired, to come back.

• This article was amended on 6 January 2022 to clarify that high temperature, persistent cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste are the three main Covid symptoms listed by the government.


Hannah Devlin and Rachel Hall

The GuardianTramp

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