Covid NI: Health agencies reassure the public that lateral flow tests are ‘accurate and reliable’

The Department of Health and the Public Health Agency have reassured the public about the reliability of lateral flow testing.

It comes after concerns were raised that the new lateral flow tests – where the user is only required to take nasal swabs – could be less accurate at detecting the Omicron variant than tests requiring the both nasal and pharyngeal swabs.

At the start of January, more than a million lateral flow tests were delivered in Northern Ireland in a week, as demand for home tests is on the rise as anyone over the age of 11 is advised to use them twice times a week if asymptomatic.

Regarding differences in accuracy in nasal tests detecting the most contagious Omicron variant, Department of Health program director Matt Wills said all tests were found to be accurate.

He said: “There are now several different types of lateral flow devices used in Northern Ireland. It is essential that anyone using them carefully follows the instructions of their test kits.

“All tests currently in circulation have been proven to accurately detect the new Omicron variant. The ACON and Orient Gene tests are nasal tests only, meaning a throat swab is not required.

“The result is ready after only 15 minutes, but the result may be inaccurate if read after 30 minutes. There are also other small differences, so it is very important to check the instructions when performing the test.”

In a statement, the Public Health Agency also insisted that all lateral flow tests are accurate when instructions are followed.

They said: “There are a number of different LFD tests used in Northern Ireland and each has their own specific instructions. In your household you may have more than one type of test kit so it is very important that you read the instructions on each kit to make sure you are using it correctly.

“Don’t assume they all follow the same process, some may be nasal swabs only and others need to be taken from both the throat and nose. Using the LFD test correctly is essential to get the good result. Please read and follow the instructions.

“No test will catch every case, but all types of lateral flow devices are highly accurate and reliable and can quickly identify those who are infected and potentially infectious, with all known variants of COVID-19.

“All LFD products are assessed to ensure they meet regulatory requirements. An independent assessment has been carried out by the laboratories of the UK Health Safety Agency (formerly Public Health England). Their validation shows that the tests work in line with the global goals of the World Health Organization.”

The PHA reminds the public that LFD tests should not be used if you have symptoms, and if you are symptomatic you should book a PCR test.

They continued: “All public health advice is simple, but it’s there for a reason – to help keep us and those around us safe. Don’t take unnecessary risks and take all available steps to protect you, your loved ones and the community.”

Lateral flow tests can be ordered for home delivery or can be picked up at NI community pharmacies. A full list can be found by clicking here.

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