Leading British healthcare company SALUTARIS PEOPLE has reacted to the latest news announced by several travel companies and airlines over the proposed Covid testing using self-administered lateral flow and PCR home test kits.

The company warned of a potential ‘disaster waiting to happen’ by relying on self-administered’ home based Lateral Flow and PCR test kits. The company claims by using these types of test it has the very real potential to trigger a third wave of infections over the Summer.

Such a disaster would plunge the airline sector and travel industries back into pre lockdown protocols with many businesses struggling to survive another sustained period of travel ban. Major concerns remain over which countries will be added to the traffic light system. It comes at a time when Australia has announced it will ‘remain closed’ to the majority of international arrivals until the start of 2022 and there are increasing concerns over the infection rate emerging from the Indian variant.

Salutaris People has also called into question how the airlines can subsidise the costs of the tests to airline passengers without passing these costs directly back onto passengers. It highlighted the case of travel operator TUI which announced yesterday it was offering passenger testing from £20 per person for green countries. The company is offering a lateral flow and PCR test through its provider Chronomics. Chronomics advertises the same tests to the public on its website for £120.

Ben Paglia MD of AKEA LIFE, the clinical testing partner to Salutaris People said.

Whilst on the face of this it is great news for airline passengers, we do have to question, who is picking up the cost of this ? The major airlines and travel operators are heavily subsiding these costs at the moment to just get people flying and booking holidays. They will either have to absorb these costs or pass them onto the consumer. Given the staggering losses that the airlines and tour operators have had to endure over the pandemic, I cannot see how they can add on further losses. In the case of Chronomics who are providing TUI’s testing, if they are advertising and charging £120 for the same tests on their website there is a huge disparity here. Either the airlines are absorbing £100 of the test cost, or the laboratories such as Chronomics have huge margins in the price they are retailing their test kits at? My gut feeling is that it will be the passengers and holiday makers who will eventually be picking up the cost for this with increased prices supplements and surcharges.

Salutaris People are concerned about the airlines and travel industry relying on this system of self-administered Lateral Flow and PCR home testing kits which were at risk on a number of levels. The company cited several issues with the idea of using the combined lateral flow and PCR test kits which included:

Lateral flow tests producing a high rate of false negatives which could allow an infectious person to openly travel cross borders in between green zones and then spread the virus exponentially. 
Self-administered Lateral Flow/PCR home test kits producing a much higher rate of ‘Unclear’ test results. 
Risk of home tests being abused and being taken by a third person who presents as negative but is positive or infectious.
Risk of test results being ‘lost in the lab and postal system’ resulting in secondary testing.
Labs not offering a refund of home-based Lateral Flow and PCR test kits with ‘Unclear” results and doubling up on costs for secondary testing. 
The subsidised costs of testing kits being ultimately passed back onto airline passengers by stealth. 

Ben Paglia MD of AKEA LIFE said:

Self-administered home-based lateral flow tests and PCR test kits have a number of problems attached to them. Both tests have a high percentage of ‘Unclear’ test results coming back from the labs where tests haven’t been done properly by the public or have been affected whilst being transported to the lab. Taking a Lateral Flow home test is also not an accurate indication that you are negative, which means you could still be infectious and spreading the virus while travelling. The speed at which the infection rate spread at the start of the Pandemic was fuelled by airline and cruise travel. It would be reckless for us to undermine all of the good work done in the vaccination program and testing. We only have to look at what happened in March of last year with holiday makers returning to see how rapidly the virus spread across the UK.

The proposed system of home testing leaves it wide open to abuse. It is understandable that people need holidays given the year we have all had, but with a self-administered test the temptation is there for a third person to stand in and take a test for someone. Our healthcare professionals administering the PCR test will do this correctly to minimise ‘Unclear’ results. At the same time, we also check a person’s identity taking the PCR test against their passport so there can be no abuse of the system.

Professor Adam Finn of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination & Immunisation recently warned that unregulated travel could be “very dangerous indeed” stating that plans needed to be “thought through carefully” to avoid losing the progress made over the last few months.

In recent media reports Professor Quin was quoted as saying; “We certainly got our hands very comprehensively burned in March 2020, when very large numbers of people returned from holidays in Europe with the virus and set the pandemic going in the UK at a very fast rate.

The proposed system used by the airlines has a number of flaws and concerns that need to be carefully thought through including:

Accuracy Of Tests
Self-administered Lateral Flow and PCR tests are not accurate and cannot be relied upon as they often produce false positives and negatives. By having a test kit administered by a healthcare professional ensures the test is accurately administered and eliminates abuse of home testing kit results.

Open To Abuse
Both Lateral Flow and PCR home based kits can be open to abuse where another person can stand in and take the test for another person and providing a negative test result. It only takes a handful of people to abuse this situation to then have infectious people boarding planes and spreading the virus and infection rate exponentially. Both airline and cruise travel were the biggest accelerants of spreading the virus in the first stages of the pandemic. Salutaris People provides a team of trained healthcare staff in each of its clinics to professionally administer a PCR test.

Transportation Of Test Results
Often samples returned in the post or courier to the lab can be affected whilst in transit also resulting in ‘Unclear’ test results. Salutaris People use highly experienced couriers who are used to transporting such samples.

Refund Of Unclear Tests
Where an ‘Unclear’ test has been returned to the labs they will not offer a refund. Salutaris People will always refund a test where it has been administered by one of our trained healthcare staff.

Lost In The Post
PCR home test kits can often get lost in the post or delayed which would end up with a person having to take another test at a further cost, or at worst they may miss their flight. Salutaris People testing is done on site with test results in 1-3 hours and 24 hours, which are carefully transported by experienced couriers.

Self-Administered Tests
Self-administered tests done by the public are often subject to being returned by the labs as “Unclear” This is when a test has not been administered by a health professional and the member of the public has incorrectly swabbed or the test has been affected in transit. This would then lead to a further cost to the airline passenger. By using trained healthcare staff ensures tests are administered professionally to avoid and minimise ‘Unclear’ test status.

Salutaris People operates across the UK, providing private Covid-19 testing for airline passengers, individuals and businesses. It believes that the only way to safely resume international air travel and get confidence back into the aviation sector is to insist that all passengers have a “gold-standard” PCR test administered by trained health care staff and professional testing companies and not self-administered PCR tests. It has also called for all of the major Covid laboratories to pass on test reductions to the public and testing providers.

MD of Salutaris People Ross Tomkins said

Allowing airline passengers to administer their own lateral flow and PCR tests would also set a very dangerous precedent and hinder the accuracy of results. The number of false negatives can increase significantly simply due to the lack of understanding people will have in testing themselves. This can also lead to the ‘false reassurance’ that a person is ‘negative’ when in fact they may be positive or asymptomatic but carrying the virus. We know that when the tests are administered by trained healthcare professionals, the results accuracy will increase significantly. This is why the tests are indicated for healthcare professional use only.”

Salutaris People is the lead partner in the first rapid PCR test facility at a UK airport. The healthcare company is working in partnership with the Test Assurance Group (TAG) and Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The express testing suite, which has its own on-site laboratory at the airport, provides clients with a rapid PCR test and certificate in under 3 hours, offering Fit to Fly and Test to Release alongside 2- and 8-daytesting. It is one of the only airports in the UK able to do this, compared to the normal 48-hour turnaround for PCR tests.

Ben Paglia MD of AKEA LIFE added:

After we have made such incredible progress with the vaccination programme rollout – and the incredible hardships and sacrifices many people have had to make in lockdown – why would the Government drop its guard now and risk a potential third outbreak and a rise in infections? All it takes is for one person to have a false test result using a lateral flow kit and an entire plane of several hundred people could be at risk.

For passengers coming into the UK and those British citizens returning, we need to ensure PCR testing protocols continue to be deployed to identify and keep new strains of the virus at bay. The same process of PCR testing for outbound airline passengers from the UK needs to continue with Fit to Fly. The only sensible way of tackling the issue of testing and authentication is by using a ‘gold- standard’ PCR test administered by a healthcare professional to determine a person’s Covid-19 status and not home based self-administered PCR tests.

The healthcare company is also on the UK Government’s approved list of Covid-19 test providers. Salutaris People will have 5 clinics operating by the end of this month, including Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Wilmslow in Cheshire, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Stockton-On-Tees and Sunderland. These sites will provide Covid-19 testing for all airline passengers in the North East who want to fly from Newcastle International Airport and Teesside International Airport. Both the Liverpool and Wilmslow sites will provide Covid-19 testing for airline passengers wishing to fly from Manchester Airport and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Akea Life, the clinical partner to Salutaris People, is a CQC-registered, 5-star private GP medical business, providing the UK’s first fully private concierge medical service of private doctors, healthcare professionals and nurses. The practice also retains a Covid-19 Consultant Virologist to advise on all matters related to Covid-19. The company also contains a Consultant Virologist – Dr Brendan Payne who is an honorary consultant physician in infectious diseases at the Royal Victoria Infirmary – Newcastle Upon Tyne. Dr Payne holds CCTs in both infectious diseases and virology and works jointly across both departments at the Newcastle Hospitals.

Salutaris People, in conjunction with its healthcare and clinical partners Akea Life, Therapy Direct and Normedica, are also offering a unique Covid-19 Concierge Service to clients by bringing private Covid PCR testing to their location. A trained healthcare professional will come to a private residence, hotel or location and administer PCR tests. The tests are then couriered back to the mobile laboratory facilities, providing express PCR results within 1-3 hours. The company also plans to offer this service across the UK in other key locations and airports.