EBC weighs up the benefits and limitations of Covid-19 testing while considering staff wellbeing
Businesses considering whether to utilise Covid-19 testing as part of their return-to-work strategies should do so with caution, Towergate Health & Protection has warned.
"Whilst tests can be an important part of this process, businesses need to understand the benefits and limitations of them," said Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health & Protection. "Testing is just one part of overall support for employee health and welfare, and businesses need to be mindful to provide support for other areas of mental and physical wellbeing which may have been negatively impacted during the pandemic."
Antigen testing, involves a swab sample from the back of the throat and nose to detect the virus, is one way that employers can identify if a member of staff has the virus.
On detection, businesses can respond by following NHS guidelines and encouraging self-isolation.
This requires a blood sample to assess whether an employee has had the virus. However, Towergate pointed out that employers must be mindful that there is not currently any clinical evidence to prove immunity if someone has had Covid-19 and how long any potential immunity may last for.
For this reason, businesses should remind staff to stick to government rules - such as social distancing - regardless of antibody testing results.
This aside, some companies may choose to use antibody testing to understand the spread of Covid-19 through their workforce to spot patterns that might indicate high-risk environments, or profile staff who've been infected in the past and to check future rates of infection.
While testing can help to give staff more confidence in returning to the workplace - knowing that the pandemic is being taken seriously - a range of safety measures still need to be in place, such as sanitising stations, socially distanced desks and workstations, or split shifts to reduce the number of staff onsite.
At present, only Public Health England (PHE) antibody-approved tests are valid and they must be administered by a healthcare professional. The NHS also provides walk-in, drive through and at-home testing kits, if people want to see whether they have a live virus. Antigen testing is also available via private organisations, and it's imperative that businesses check that it is a reputable organisation before investing. The government recently confirmed that coronavirus tests will not be treated as a taxable benefit in kind.
Staff health and wellbeing
Towergate added that private medical insurance, cash plans and employee assistance programmes can be a vital way of support of health and wellbeing of staff at this time, by providing a range of remote services to support physical and mental health. Now is the time to ensure the benefits are communicated and utilisation is encouraged, it saud.
Brett Hill added: "Covid-19 testing is offering businesses a solution to understanding where they currently stand with their workforce, which may help to inform return-to-work strategies. But it's important businesses understand the benefits and limitations of such testing. And as business adjust to this latest stage of working during the pandemic, it's important to remember that testing is just one aspect of supporting wider health and wellbeing."