Requiring PCR Testing for Isolation Funds May Fail Legal Test, UK Officials Say | Health policy
Government lawyers have said any legal challenges to forcing low-paid people to take confirmatory PCR tests for financial support during isolation would have a high chance of success, the Guardian has learned.
Legal opinions disseminated within the UK Health and Safety Agency (UKHSA) are meant to warn that there is a risk of challenge under the Equality Act.
The boards rate the odds of success for any challenge at 50% to 70%. He says it could be argued that lower socio-economic groups would be at a disadvantage by the decision to remove the PCR Covid confirmatory testing for everyone, if low-paid people were still required to obtain them in order to access payments of £ 500 for support during isolation.
“There is at least a 50-70% medium-high risk of a successful challenge on the basis of equality and rationality if we require individuals to have a confirmatory PCR to access TTSP. [test-and-trace support] payments, ”the board says.
“Indeed, this has a disproportionate impact on people from low-income backgrounds and if [lateral flow tests] are deemed sufficient from a public health and fraud standpoint, then forcing all individuals to legally self-isolate, it is difficult to argue that they should then [need a PCR test to] access TTSP.
The decision to withdraw confirmatory PCR testing for asymptomatic people who test positive by self-reported lateral flow was announced this week. The exception is for low-paid people who wish to request Covid support payments, who must obtain confirmation due to the risk of fraudulent requests.
It was also announced this week that PCR requirements would be removed for travelers arriving in the UK – a move opposed by Health Secretary Sajid Javid on the grounds that it could delay detection of new variants entering the country.
The Guardian revealed this week that Jenny Harries, the head of the UKHSA, had raised concerns that low-paid workers are disadvantaged by changes to England’s Covid testing regime.
In a pre-Christmas memo, she highlighted a greater risk of false negatives for low-income people who were forced to go to a testing center to ensure they were receiving Covid testing and tracing support payments from £ 500.
Harries wrote: “In times of higher prevalence, abandoning confirmatory PCR would mean that those most likely to receive a false negative and therefore potentially get sick, and then seek hospital care later and therefore those most likely to die would be more likely to be those from lower socioeconomic groups who also have a higher risk of underlying health problems as additional risk factors.
The government has made the changes in part to ease the strain on the PCR testing system as the number of Covid cases is at an all-time high, and in part to allow people to start the clock of times of isolation earlier.
However, public health officials were also concerned that a confirmatory PCR would be counterproductive due to the risk of false negatives.
Some experts have previously pointed out that there is still a reasonable chance that a person will have Covid if they have positive lateral flow followed by negative PCR, with PCR missing a positive result about one in 20 times.
It is understood that data prepared for Javid this month contained estimates that around 9,000 of the 195,000 confirmatory PCR tests performed in November in England were false negatives. Out of 20,000 total negatives, this suggested that 45% of all negative PCR results after a positive lateral flow result were false.
In Wales, support payments are made for self-reported testing without the need for a confirmatory PCR.
It is difficult to quantify the number of people affected, but the House of Commons library found that approximately 370,000 support payments were made in November.
This means that around 1 million applications have probably been filed, because based on previous data, the success rate is estimated to be around a third.
The number of payments is likely to have further increased substantially during the latest wave of Covid.
The UKHSA declined to comment on the leaked advice.