Taking Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) has been central to the University’s Covid-19 response. But with every event and activity requiring it, and the University encouraging students to swab twice a week, the bill has racked up. A Freedom of Information request by Palatinate reveals that, from October to June, the University conducted almost 140,000 Lateral Flow Tests for staff and students at a cost of £580k. Of the tests conducted, only 426 (0.3%) were positive, and some of these likely to be false positives.
Almost three-quarters of tests were taken in the summer term as exams ended and students had an LFT-dependant period of enjoying the ‘Wider Student Experience’. Between April and June 2021, 103,061 were conducted, at a cost of £239,330. Of these, 339 were positive.
From January to March 2021, 25,262 lateral flow tests were taken, with 21,250 and 4,012 between students and staff respectively. Of these, 47 were positive. Because of a national lockdown, many students were not resident in Durham in this period.
Some have questioned the accuracy of LFTs and therefore their usefulness. 38 of the 40 positive lateral flow results received by the University in the Michaelmas term were matched with a PCR result: only 5 were positive.
A Cochrane review of 64 studies indicated that LFTs correctly identify 72% of people who have symptoms, and 58% of asymptomatic cases.
The University urged students to take two LFTs per week in the summer term. As cases began to rise in the city in mid-June, the University, alongside the County Council and Public Health England, requested that asymptomatic students also take one PCR test per week.
Durham was part of an LFT pilot scheme developed in partnership with the Department for Health and Social Care, the University of Oxford, and Public Health England.
Jacqui Ramagge, Executive Dean (Science) at Durham University, said in February: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority. Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) is one of a range of measures we’ve implemented to support a healthy campus and we are grateful to students and staff for their participation in the programme and their efforts to protect themselves and our community.
“LFTs are voluntary. We encourage all students who are in Durham to test regularly, at least once a week, and we have made accessing the LFT programme as easy as possible. LFTs are available, at no cost, seven days a week at multiple locations in Durham and some Colleges. We’ve also worked closely with student leaders to develop communications campaigns to promote the benefits of regular testing and encourage uptake.
“Lateral Flow Testing aims to identify people who are infectious but do not know it. By identifying these asymptomatic people and asking them to self isolate, we can help break the chain of transmission and protect our community.
“The programme aims to test students and staff regularly to find and isolate positive cases swiftly, and to determine how we might test contacts of positive cases regularly to identify those who are not infectious and avoid the need for self-isolation.”
However, Ramagge also told Palatinate that “No test grants immunity to Covid-19 and we urge our entire community to continue to follow government guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus.”
LFTs are typically less accurate than PCR tests, and positive LFT tests are usually confirmed with a subsequent PCR test.
Image: Mark Norton