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COVID-19 antibody tests are being used by the NHS without proper assessment, experts warn

Published on 25/06/20 at 10:40am
U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Megan Friedl

Coronavirus antibody tests that are beginning to be used by NHS and care staff have been distributed without adequate assessment, experts have warned.

In a letter published in BMJ, several experts in epidemiology and virology expressed their concerns over aspects of the antibody test. It stated: “We have three concerns about the request. Firstly, there is no specific clinical indication for the test on an individual basis. Secondly, the performance of these assays has not yet been assessed to the standard typically required of a novel test. And thirdly, the resource implications are not considered.

“We support the rapid provision of diagnostic tests for individual and public health and recognise the need to deliver at pace. It is essential, however, that quality systems, which have evolved over many years and are the foundation for delivering the right result of the right test to the right person at the right time, are not circumvented.”

The scientists believe because the tests are unable to prove immunity, the tests offer no benefit to hospitals and care staff.

Scientists in favour of the coronavirus antibody tests have responded to the letter. Professor Sir John Bell from Oxford University, who has advised the government on the tests, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We do need to know how many people out there have been infected and the only way to do this is antibody testing. However, you couldn't safely use it as a way of telling people whether they could be exposed or not.”

Professor Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, feels the tests are an important part of the government health response: “If used successfully, the data generated will be important surveillance information for understanding the effectiveness of control measures put in place.”

Public Health England have also said that all the tests in the programme have been validated and received CE marks which show it has met with EU safety standards.

Conor Kavanagh

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