An exchange of letters between an advocate and the Chief Executive of the Dept of Education, Sport and Culture has confirmed that the dept’s only role is to act as an, in effect, go-between to give parents access to tests.
Ian Kermode wrote to Graham Kinrade after concerns were raised by several parents regarding the use of lateral flow tests in schools.
Mr Kermode’s letter, which can be seen in full below, looks at several issues surrounding tests, most fundamentally the actual accuracy of lateral flow tests. The advocate said: ‘Research carried out by Public Health England for the period March 8, 2021, to April 4, 2021, showed that from 26,144,449 lateral flow results, 39,904 positive cases were identified. However, follow up PCR tests revealed that an alarming 18% came back negative, meaning that thousands of individuals and their households had been self-isolating for no reason. This obviously caused needless inconvenience, stress and upset to many households, often deprived of any financial support during the self-isolation.’
He goes on to cite research from the British Medical Journal which reported last year that the lateral flow tests were only 49% effective at picking up infections in asymptomatic people in the Liverpool mass testing pilot scheme.
Dr Ewart’s Letter
Mr Kermode goes on to question Mr Kinrade about the use of the tests in schools while citing correspondence between Mr Kermode and Director of Public Health Dr Ewart. Mr Kermode had asked Dr Ewart about the Liverpool testing and she told that the island was living in very different conditions. Dr Ewart said: ‘In a context of no or very low community transmission the pre-test probability that anyone screened for Covid-19 actually will have it is very low. This means that false positives become a significant problem and the disbenefits of managing these are likely to outweigh the benefits.’
For context, this exchange occurred before the recent spate of cases in schools and before the gov changed its policy on close contacts and isolation.
Another area touched on by Mr Kermode was the cost of the tests, which he said range from between £5 and £15 each. His letter went on to say that it is believed that the potential cost of these tests over the next year would be up to £2.5m. Mr Kermode said: ‘Do you consider that this eye-watering expenditure on such a patently dubious scheme is appropriate and proportionate or would such monies be much better spent on different educational priorities such as a proper pay rise for teachers or funding the Family Library on Westmoreland Road, Douglas and the Mobile Library, both of which are under serious threat of closure due to the withdrawal of government grant assistance?’
In his response, Mr Kinrade said that it is ‘not within DESC’s remit to provide specific advice or response on many of the issues you raise’. He added: ‘The parents who have contacted you may contact their own GPs in relation to health matters, or Headteachers to set out any specific concern they have with regard to child’s education, welfare or wellbeing in order that any available support may be provided.’
Mr Kinrade added: ‘The lateral flow testing pilot is available to all secondary school pupils at all ages but it is voluntary and testing is intended to be for this school term only (no provision has been made for the pilot to run through the school holidays). All staff within schools have continued access to a PCR testing pathway if staff chose to access this pathway. The lateral flow testing pilot is available to all secondary school pupils, and this applies whether or not vaccinated. Parents will collect and administer the tests on a voluntary basis and DESC, nor the schools or DHSC or Manx Care collect consent. As such, there is no burden on any parent or secondary school pupil unless the parents and secondary school pupils wish to do so. All testing is voluntary and no results are recorded, unless a parent or secondary school pupil notifies the 111 system of a positive Lateral Flow Device (LFD) in order to arrange a confirmatory PCR test.’
He also confirmed that the use of the tests ‘may be useful in identifying likely positives from community transmission which can be confirmed by a PCR test’.
You can read both of the letters in full below.