COVID-19 comment: Precious resources for testing being privately used24 March 2020
Dr Alexander Edwards, Associate Professor of Biomedical Technology at the University of Reading comments on a private test being made available. Dr Edwards said:
“There have been reports about privately available tests available to whoever wants to take it. Some of these private tests might sound expensive. This high price will come from the cost of safely testing someone: when you add together the massive labour cost of PPE, safe sample collection, processing, and running the diagnostic test. Even though the actual test itself only costs a few pounds to run, there is a big overhead cost for quality control and validation, the skilled lab operator, and even more important the biosafety surrounding sample collection from someone with symptoms of a respiratory infection who must therefore be kept from spreading it around.
"Before the US launched free national testing, the cost to individuals to get tested within their private health system also sounded very high. Other private tests might seem cheap- but this will come with lower quality and certification, so cheap home tests are likely to be inaccurate.
“However, there is a wider moral question about whether it’s appropriate or fair to use up precious resources if you’re not in a position where you need to take a test, such as members of the NHS or the seriously ill. Testing equipment and materials are likely to be in short supply across the world- and it’s often the surprising things like swabs and containers that might run out, even if other vital materials are readily available.
"Even more critical, many NHS workers have been very short of protective equipment whilst distribution systems are being set up, and for private testing to consume this protective equipment for non-essential testing is hard to justify. Any testing capacity in the UK must be used wisely, with urgent priority in testing healthcare workers who otherwise cannot do their jobs safely.“