A group of medical experts have expressed concerns over a COVID-19 antibody testing programme for health and social care staff.
The government announced last month that free antibody tests will be available to all NHS and care staff in England, but writing in the British Medical Journal, scientists have argued the tests have lacked “proper assessment”.
In their letter, 14 scientists say a positive antibody test does not prove immunity and the test offered “no benefit” to hospital and care staff.
The academics argue that antibody results do not change PPE requirements and could place an unnecessary burden on the NHS, adding that there is “little evidence” of how well the tests will work for those at highest risk, including the elderly and ethnic minorities.
They argue for an alternative approach to help monitor the spread of the virus.
The government’s advisor on antibiody tests, Professor John Bell, argued the scientists had underestimated their value, telling 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.”
Professor Bell agreed, however, that there was not enough evidence to prove that a positive test provided immunity.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are offering antibody tests to NHS and care staff in England, with patients and care residents eligible at their clinician’s request. And we are also using antibody tests to support research studies.
“Antibody testing will improve our understanding of how coronavirus is spreading across the country, which will be vital for future decisions about controlling the virus.”