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Government encourages SMEs to start testing staff for COVID-19

Many small and medium sized businesses will now be able to ask the government to supply lateral flow tests to enable them to identify members of staff who have the virus but don't have symptoms. 

Are the tests available to all employers?

No. You can only apply if your business is registered in England, you employ 50 people or more and your employees can't work from home.

What type of tests are provided?

If you're eligible, you'll receive lateral flow tests.

Lateral flow is an established technology, adapted to detect proteins (antigens) that are present when a person has COVID-19. The test kit is a hand-held device with an absorbent pad at one end and a reading window at the other and works a bit like a pregnancy testing kit. Inside the device is a strip of test paper that changes colour in the presence of COVID-19 proteins (antigens).

The tests are simple and easy to use. Workers will be able to test themselves and receive results within 30 minutes. 

Are they free of charge?

Tests are currently provided free of charge to both public and private sector employers until at least 31 March. The government has said that it will keep the position under review and will 'engage with employers before any changes to the support offer are made'

How do we apply for the tests?

You can access the online application here. You have to confirm that you're eligible and provide your company's name, registered number and an email. It's a quick and easy process and applications are processed within two working days.

How often should we test our staff?

The press release says that staff should be tested 'regularly' which we understand to mean twice a week. Hopefully, this will be clarified in guidance.

Do staff who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 still need to be tested?

According to current advice, yes.

How do we set up a testing site in our premises?

According to the government: 'NHS Test & Trace will support organisations to deliver scalable asymptomatic testing through provision of a digital solution, clinical protocol, supply of tests kits, guidance, training and framework for delivery'.

Can staff test themselves at home?

UK regulators approved the use of antigen lateral flow tests for home use in December 2020 so that may be possible. However, you'll need to follow the advice of NHS Test and Trace which may require staff to be supervised for their first test to make sure they are using them properly. 

What happens if a member of staff tests positive?

Anyone that tests positive must return/remain at home and arrange for a PCR lab test. If that is negative, they can continue to attend work unless they develop Covid symptoms or are advised to self isolate by NHS Track and Trace.  

Can we insist that staff take the tests?

You can't test anyone who doesn't agree to it. 

You may be able to argue that asking your staff to be tested is a reasonable management instruction and treat refusal as a form of misconduct. But it's much better to try and persuade people first. Explain how testing will help you to protect your workforce and their households (one in three people with COVID-19 don't have symptoms), what happens to the test results and how long they are retained. Then deal with any other concerns they may have individually.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Employers should regularly test their staff, and this drive across government to raise awareness and encourage more businesses to introduce rapid testing for employees is incredibly important.”