Availability of COVID-19 testing
The latest announcement that a test to find out whether people have been infected with coronavirus in the past has been approved by health officials in England, is welcome news and cannot come soon enough for businesses that are looking for a way forward in this health crisis.
This will no doubt add to the existing volume of enquiries that we are already seeing from businesses where there is suggestion that the antibody and diagnostic testing is already available within the private healthcare sector.
Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing is aware of some healthcare providers promoting antibody and diagnostic testing services and we know many of our clients will have received these promotions. We felt it would be useful for us to provide an overview of our independent position on the use of these services at the current time.
We know that things will continue to rapidly change in respect of government strategy and guidelines and diagnosis and treatment. As and when changes are made we may update and re-communicate our position.
What antibody testing is available and should we use them within our business?
Prior to this announcement, there were NO GOVERNMENT APPROVED ANTIBODY TESTS. This means that the accuracy of any tests currently available has not been approved by the Government. As a country, we are clear on our position that inaccurate testing is more dangerous than no testing. For this reason, we will not be recommending the use of these tests to our clients.
Now that the government has approved a test as accurate, can we use them?
This raises a number of further questions that will require more clarity before we would be in a position to recommend this to our clients:
1. The real use of these tests for any kind of strategy to exit from lockdown, which some regard could be highly controversial
a) What is the exact test product that has been approved and how will our clients be sure that they are purchasing accurate tests?
b) To date, the government has stated that whilst the test will detect the antibodies it is unclear as to the extent and longevity of time of any immunity.
c) Whilst an individual may be immune, it does not provide certainty that they cannot still get sick or harbour the virus and pass it onto others.
2. The legal, employment law considerations of rolling out employee testing in the workplace
a) Firstly an employer will need to consider and document that there are reasonable grounds for testing and what they specifically are – in the current climate we don’t dispute that there is a case for testing, however, legal advice should be sought
b) Can you mandate testing? And what processes or measures will be taken for those that refuse tests where the risks are therefore unknown?
c) Who owns the test results, can you specify that as an employer you have access to the results? What are the GDPR implications?
d) What working, travel, operational guidelines are you going to put in place for those that ‘have immunity’ – see comments above, and those that do not? Are these legal?
What about diagnostic testing, can we use this?
We understand that some private healthcare practices are offering diagnostic tests. Firstly we do not have the medical expertise to understand or validate that these are accurate, government-approved testing methods.
The government has a strategy in respect of identifying and tracking infection rates and is currently recommending that diagnostic testing remains within the NHS.
The legal implications associated with antibody tests remain the same for diagnostic tests.
Howden remains close to the private healthcare sector throughout this time to ensure that our views and advice are consistent with best practice. The major Private Medical Insurers are similarly currently not endorsing or funding the use of private antibody or diagnostic tests.
Cheryl is Director of Corporate Consulting at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing. Cheryl works with clients to help them design, build and implement employee benefit strategies that work for the individual needs of their business and their workforce.