Brits are being told to swab THEMSELVES at drive-thru testing sites

Family reveal they were forced to swab THEMSELVES for coronavirus in their car at a drive-through testing centre – even though trained medics were available to do the tests

  • Testing stations appear to have stopped using trained medics to take samples 
  • Family told MailOnline they had to self-swab at centre at Twickenham Stadium
  • They went home ‘with no confidence’ they had done the Covid tests correctly
  • Experts say self-swabs ‘dangerous’ because they can produce false negatives
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Brits are being told to swab themselves at drive-through Covid testing centres without the option of getting trained medics to do it for them, it has emerged.

Throughout the crisis medics have been pictured leaning through car windows and swabbing suspected patients at dozens of the sites dotted across the UK.

But one young family told MailOnline they were not given the choice of having a trained medic do the tests.

Experts say relying on self-swabbing is ‘dangerous’ because they may be less likely to be accurate. Taking proper swabs can be uncomfortable because they need to be pushed deep inside the throat and nose. 

And sub-par swabbing is more likely to produce false negatives which may give infected patients misplaced confidence that they don’t have the disease.

The family was given three testing kits and a set of instructions through the window of their car when they visited the centre at Twickenham Stadium in south-west London.

They were told to park in a quiet bay and were left completely unsupervised to swab their own throats and noses. Their only instruction was to flash their hazard lights if they had any problems. 

They said they left the centre ‘with no confidence they were going to get the correct result’. 

A video posted on YouTube by the Department of Health on April 17 said ‘some sites’ were now providing ‘simple kits with instructions on how to do the test yourself’. But the video did not say why this would be the case, or if it would be optional.

When asked by MailOnline the Department of Health and Social Care did not acknowledge whether Britons were supposed to get the option of taking their own test or having a medic do it for them. 

A spokesperson said hundreds of thousands of people have successfully used the drive through sites adding that the tests are ‘designed to be self-swab and have clear instructions but if people need help, they can easily alert a member of staff who can assist.’

A young family told MailOnline they were shocked to be told they had to do their own swabs when they visited the centre at Twickenham Stadium (shown)

A young family told MailOnline they were shocked to be told they had to do their own swabs when they visited the centre at Twickenham Stadium (shown)

A testing site in Harlow, Essex, has also started asked suspected patients to do the self-swabs

A testing site in Harlow, Essex, has also started asked suspected patients to do the self-swabs 

One member of the family – who did not want to be named – said: ‘We arrived under the impression that we’d be tested, but were shocked when staff slid home test kits through the window of our car and told us to do them ourselves.

‘We had to park away from all the staff and were told to put our hazard lights on if there were any problems. 

‘When we opened the packets there were lots of bits of paper with quite specific instructions on them – like stick the swab 2.5cm up your nose.’

They added: ‘The step-by-step instructions were fairly simple but it was the practicalities of three of us trying to shove swabs down our throats and up our noses that was difficult – especially with a young child. It was all a bit shambolic.

WHY IS A SELF-SWAB ‘DANGEROUS’? 

Experts say relying on self-swabbing is ‘dangerous’ because false negatives might give infected patients the confidence to go out and spread the disease to others.

Studies suggest that 30 per cent of swabs taken by healthcare professionals – who are trained to do them properly – give false negatives, when infected people are told they don’t have the viral disease.

For untrained people doing the swabs themselves, the margin of error is expected to be much higher, scientists say.

Taking proper swabs can be uncomfortable because they need to be deep in the throat and nose. 

Poor swabbing technique leads to these false results, which experts fear could give infected patients false confidence and raise the risk of spreading the virus. 

At £125-a-pop, there is also concern that if people have to take repeated tests it could be a waste of money.

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‘I thought, “shouldn’t someone be watching us to make sure we’ve done them correctly?” There was no-one supervising us. 

‘We left with no confidence we are going to get a right result and we’re convinced we probably did not do it correctly.’

The family said that once they had finished, staff approached the car with a medical bin and asked them to put the samples inside. 

Studies suggest that up to 30 per cent of swabs taken by healthcare professionals give false negatives, when infected people are told they don’t have the viral disease. 

Poor swabbing technique leads to these false results, which experts fear could give infected patients false confidence and raise the risk of spreading the virus. 

At up to £125-a-pop privately, there is also concern that if people have to take repeated tests it could be a waste of money. 

The family member added: ‘At one point we had to put the hazards on. We had tried to put the swab in my five-year-old son’s throat.

‘The instructions said the swab had to be down his throat for five seconds without shutting his mouth – but he closed his mouth instantly and we had to request a new test.

‘It probably didn’t help that we were boiling in the car.  

‘We managed to get there in the end but you’re bound to have someone who is unwell trying to swab their child in the car who is potentially unwell and is putting up a fight. You’re bound to do it wrong. 

‘When we were there we only saw one other car pulled up – it was a mother and child and you could see the argument going on their car.’ 

Throughout the crisis, medics in full hazmat suits have been photographed leaning through car windows and taking saliva samples from suspected patients at dozens of sites dotted around the country. Pictured: A drive-in testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort, west London

Throughout the crisis, medics in full hazmat suits have been photographed leaning through car windows and taking saliva samples from suspected patients at dozens of sites dotted around the country. Pictured: A drive-in testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort, west London 

But some testing centres appear to have ditched this approach and are now requiring symptomatic people to do to the tests - which are already prone to giving false negatives - themselves. Pictured: A health worker takes a swab to test a key worker at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge on May 5, 2020

But some testing centres appear to have ditched this approach and are now requiring symptomatic people to do to the tests – which are already prone to giving false negatives – themselves. Pictured: A health worker takes a swab to test a key worker at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge on May 5, 2020

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine and infectious disease scientist at University of East Anglia said relying on self-swabbing results is ‘dangerous’.

He told MailOnline: ‘What I’m worried about is if you’ve got symptoms, and the test comes back as negative, you can go out. That is dangerous because you get a lot of false negatives.

‘I think it’s dangerous, and it will get more dangerous, if the government continues to rely on test results as cases decline. Because a wrong result could lead to wider spread, particularly if the person is a super spreader.  

HOW TO CARRY OUT A CORONAVIRUS SWAB ON YOURSELF

  1. Clean your hands with alcohol gel.
  2. Take a deep swab of your throat for five seconds on either side. Rub the back of your throat several times. This may make you gag if done properly. Try to avoid swabbing your teeth or tongue.
  3. Use the same swab to collect a sample from one nostril, then the other. The swab should go in as far as it can until you hit resistance, which should be at around 2.5cm. It should be rotated in both nostrils. It’s normal for you to tear up at this point.
  4. Without touching the end of the swab, lower it into a sample container until it reaches a black line. This indicates where the swab is to be snapped against the side of the container. Once it snaps off, screw the test tube lid back on.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people have successfully used the drive through sites and it has always been the case that they can either be self-administered or carried out by a medical professional.

‘The tests at these regional test sites are designed to be self-swab and have clear instructions but if people need help, they can easily alert a member of staff who can assist.’

There have been almost 4.7million tests carried out across the UK so far, of which 240,161 have been positive.

Some 40 per cent of tests have been repeat tests to clarify if someone has got rid of the virus, for example when a patient leaves hospital.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and infectious disease expert at Warwick University, told MailOnline: ‘I’m guessing around 30 per cent of results are a false negative.

‘That means for every 100 people you test that are positive, 30 will come out as negative.

‘False negatives happen for several reasons, but probably the main reason is a sampling error. 

‘It’s always concerned me and many colleagues there is an issue with swabbing and I think some errors will creep in.’

Nasopharyngeal swabs are the preferred choice of testing for SARS-CoV-2 worldwide because it collects the most concentrated sample.

A long flexible cotton bud is supposed to be inserted deep into the nostril and along the nose ‘floor’ to collect a mucus sample.

The aim is to reach the posterior nasopharynx, a cavity made up of muscle and connective tissue, covered in cells and mucous. It continues down into the throat.

But the invasive test is so uncomfortable it’s been described like ‘being stabbed in the brain’. It can cause people to gag and suffer nosebleeds.

The alternative is to take two swabs; one from the nostril and another of the back of the throat through the mouth.

Home testing kits – of which some 35,000 are currently being sent out per day to key workers and their household members – use this method.

Professor Young, who emphasised that nasopharyngeal swabs collect a stronger sample, said he believes there is an ‘enormous variability’ in how swabs are being collected, both at home and at drive-through testing facilities across the UK.

‘You have to go deep into the nose. That’s not happening [with self swabs],’ he warned.

‘If you’re going to make judgements on one swab test, you have to be very careful especially if you are telling people if they can go back to work.’ 

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