NI SMART: Expansion of the Rapid Testing Programme
Who can access Rapid Testing?
In Northern Ireland, free Rapid Testing is available to all employers for all staff.
People working for Organisations with more than 10 employees
Employers wishing to participate in the workforce rapid testing programme should complete an online expression of interest.
The Department of Health will work with employers to identify the most appropriate form of testing available based on their requirements. Employers will need to provide details of including:
- NI Company Registration Number
- Industry / Sector for organisation
- Provide a short summary of company and how it meets the criteria
- How many employees the company has
- Contact details of a key contact in the organisation
Further details for employers with more than 10 employees are listed below.
Small Businesses (10 or less employees)
Small business or organisations with 10 or less employees have a number of options to access rapid LFD tests.
In Northern Ireland small businesses and people working from home can access testing using one of the following options:
- Find a local site to be tested at
- Find a local site to collect LFDs to perform at home
- Ordering LFDs for delivery to your home address
Purpose of the programme
Evidence has shown that around one third of people infected with COVID-19 can have no symptoms (are asymptomatic) and can still transmit the virus to others without being aware. It is important that steps are taken to reduce the risk of transmission by identifying those who may not know they have the virus.
The Rapid Testing Programme seeks to identify these individuals quickly to ensure that they and their close contacts can self-isolate. This approach helps to break chains of transmission in the workforce and beyond and is known as “test to find”.
This testing programme is an additional tool to protect the workforce, and does not replace, a range of other measures in place in wider society, such as social distancing, hand hygiene and face coverings.
What is Rapid Testing?
Rapid testing should only be used by people who have no symptoms of COVID-19.
Anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should have a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at a test centre, or order one to be delivered to their home.
If you have:
- a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature); OR
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual); OR
- a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.
More information can be found on the Public Health Agency's website: Testing for COVID-19.
How is the test performed?
Rapid testing is performed using a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) that detects a protein produced by the virus at its most infectious stage. If present in the person’s sample, a coloured line appears on the device after 15-30 minutes. LFDs are simple, easy to use test devices which provide results quickly and which do not require any specialist equipment or a laboratory to deliver.
If the test result is positive, the individual and their household must begin a period of self-isolation immediately. Contact tracing will commence on confirmation of a positive LFD test. Further details can be found on the PHA’s website: Testing and tracing for COVID-19.
Anyone who receives a positive test using a LFD should have a confirmatory PCR test within 24 hours. Tests should be booked at https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test.
If the result of the PCR test is negative the individual and the household can leave isolation and no further action is required.
It is important to note, that LFDs are not as sensitive as PCR tests and negative results do not rule out that an employee has the virus. It is therefore essential that employees adhere to the measures in place and, if they have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, they book a PCR test and self-isolate. Testing twice a week increases the detection rate of LFDs.
What are the benefits to Employers?
It is still necessary to take precautions to reduce the risk of further surges of the disease. Asymptomatic testing forms a key part of the Executive’s strategy to suppress the virus as lockdown measures are relaxed.
Employers have a vital role to play in this next phase, minimising the spread of infection amongst their employees by introducing regular testing to identify employees within their workforce. Rapid testing can help to protect staff, helping to give confidence, as well as improving the overall resilience of business operations. It also provides additional assurance to customers or the general public who are interacting with staff in person.
During the pandemic, outbreaks have led to some sites being temporarily closed. Rapid testing can help to prevent this.
Government support for workforce testing
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in England has contracted on behalf of the Devolved Administrations to secure stocks of LFD tests to facilitate a UK wide testing programme.
The support available for organisations in Northern Ireland to introduce workforce testing includes:
- Facilitation of access to relevant DHSC support materials, including a guidebook, workforce blueprint, digital signage assets and a clinical standard operating procedure (SOP);
- Provision, via DHSC, of Lateral Flow Tests from the Northern Ireland allocation for a defined period subject to contractual arrangements;
- Access to the online workforce testing portal providing digital solutions covering user registration, results capture and delivery guidance;
- Provision of PPE (Public Sector Only);
- Training – online training and information from DHSC. Training opportunities may also be available from local partners and providers.
To access Rapid Testing support organisations will need to demonstrate:
- They are a recognised body/registered with Companies House & trading;
- A clear purpose and plan for testing in line with the workforce blueprints provided by DHSC. This is in addition to providing a COVID-19 safe working environment;
- They have the resources, capacity and capability to deliver the testing site/ process according the SOP;
- Working arrangements and engagement with the workforce/trade unions.
DHSC will provide indemnity to approved organisations subject to confirmation that their arrangements are in line with the SOP.
What is your responsibility?
Approved organisations will sign a contract with DHSC. Under the terms of the contract:
- The organisation will construct and set up testing environments in accordance with SOP guidelines (including storage areas for tests) for sample collection, analysis, disposal and reporting;
- Tests must be supervised by employer provided staff who will be given suitable training via an online platform;
- Employees will be tested under a schedule as defined by the employer;
- Testing will not be compulsory;
- Sample materials need to be treated as clinical waste. Disposal will take place at the place of test, in line with local (Northern Ireland) requirements;
- Test results will be shared with NPEx (National Pathology Exchange) prior to anonymised onward distribution to the Public Health Agency;
- Under current legislation, employers do not receive results directly.
- What does asymptomatic mean?
Asymptomatic means someone who has no symptoms of a disease, in this case COVID-19. Evidence has shown that people infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 can have no symptoms and still spread the disease.
- What is LFD testing?
LFD stands for Lateral Flow Device. This test detects the virus that causes COVID-19.
LFD testing uses nasal and/or throat swab samples to detect a protein (antigen) produced by the virus at its most infectious stage.
If present in the person's sample, two coloured lines appear on the device within 15-30 minutes.
- How frequently should staff be tested?
Staff should be tested twice per week.
- What are the benefits of the lateral flow device tests?
We know that around one in three people who have COVID–19 don’t show any symptoms.
These devices help identify people who have the virus but do not have symptoms.
The benefits of the LFD testing technology include:
- The ability to be used at the point of need and at scale
- Confirmation of a positive or negative test result within half an hour.
- minimal workforce training required
- no requirement for laboratory analysis
- Is the test safe?
Yes - Lateral flow tests are validated technology, they are safe, and the results are trusted. These tests have undergone rigorous testing and evaluation including at Public Health England’s research laboratories to ensure they are verified for use.
- How do we express our interest in setting up asymptomatic testing at our workplace?
Organisations wanting to introduce workforce testing should submit an expression of interest.
- Why do we need confirmatory PCR testing if LFDs are accurate?
A confirmatory PCR test is required following a positive LFD test. also allows for the monitoring of variants of concern.
Although highly unlikely, it is possible to receive a false positive LFD test result and a negative PCR test would identify this and allow the individual and their household to stop self-isolating.
- Should LFD testing continue now that the vaccination programme is underway?
Yes – it is still possible to catch COVID-19 following a vaccination. Testing will protect those who may be more vulnerable to a severe reaction to the disease.
- Do we expect a high number of positive results?
No. The number of positive LFD tests that we have seen to date has been very low.
As society reopens, and lockdown measures are relaxed, we may see an increase in the number of positive tests. LFD testing will help to break chains of transmission and help to maintain a return to normal life.
- What happens if you have a lateral flow test that is positive, but your PCR test comes back negative?
In the unlikely event that you do receive a positive LFT, but your PCR test comes back negative, you and your household will no longer have to self-isolate.
- If I have received the vaccine, will this affect the test result?
- Do I have to participate in LFD testing in my workplace if they have set up LFD testing – Is it compulsory?
LFD testing is recommended but not mandatory.
- How do I get my LFD test result?
Employees should receive their test result within 60 minutes of undertaking their test.
- Do lateral flow tests require a professional to perform the test?
No. The LFD test has been validated for self-swabbing. This means that subjects will be asked to self-administer a swab and provide their own sample. They do not require a qualified person to conduct the test.
- Is the LFD test safe for those that are pregnant?
Yes, the tests are safe to use by those who are pregnant.
- I have Covid-19 symptoms, should I take an LFD test?
No – if you have COVID-19 symptoms you should book a PCR test by: