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Rapid testing should be considered but it's not as accurate as the test we currently use, Hiqa says

The introduction of rapid testing could be effective in Ireland in future, but we need to see its “real-world performance” here first, Hiqa said.

File photo. Test tubes with throat swab samples for the Covid-19 Rapid Antigen test.
File photo. Test tubes with throat swab samples for the Covid-19 Rapid Antigen test.
Image: Naveen Sharma SIPA USA/PA Images

CONSIDERATION SHOULD BE given to the use of a system of rapid testing for Covid-19 but such antigen tests typically show “reduced diagnostic accuracy” compared with the current test, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has said. 

In a review of alternative testing to detect Sars-Cov-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – Hiqa said that the introduction of validated rapid testing in Ireland “should now be considered to enhance Covid-19 prevention and control”.

At the request of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Hiqa carried out this assessment of alternatives to the current PCR testing used across the country to test for Covid-19.

It comes at a time when significant pressure has been put on the contact tracing system, with in excess of 110,000 tests completed in the last week in Ireland.

It has emerged that the HSE is to ask more than 2,000 people who received a positive Covid-19 test result last week to alert their own close contacts due to “unprecedented pressure”.

The current PCR testing used in Ireland and around the globe is expensive and time-consuming. Numerous forms of rapid tests are either being developed or have been developed – that could take as little as 30 minutes – and opposition TDs such as Labour leader Alan Kelly have called for rapid testing to be introduced here. 

In its review, Hiqa said that it would be vital to study how effective rapid antigen detection tests are in an Irish setting to help determine its “real world performance”. 

However, given the variation in accuracy across the different forms of tests, it couldn’t give an “across the board” recommendation to adopt rapid testing. 

Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa’s director of health technology assessment, said: “While testing people at or near the point of care, including with the use of rapid antigen detection tests, has the potential to expand test capacity, reduce test turnaround times and improve access, such tests typically show reduced diagnostic accuracy compared with the current test.

“Therefore, depending on the circumstances, results from a rapid antigen detection test may need to be confirmed with the current rRT-PCR test.”

Dr Ryan said a cohesive national strategy is needed to ensure the right tests are undertaken in the “right people at the right time for the right purpose”. 

“Planning now to support delivery of the strategy will facilitate rapid deployment of tests that meet the requisite standards once validated for use,” she added.

Hiqa submitted the findings of its health technology assessment to NPHET earlier this month. 

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