Lateral flow home testing

We strongly encourage all members of staff, and students who are not eligible for the asymptomatic screening programme, to take twice-weekly lateral flow tests (LFTs).

Free lateral flow home testing kits are available to all adults in England through the NHS. They can be ordered for home delivery or collected from some pharmacies and test sites. The tests involve a self-administered nose and mouth swab, and deliver results in approximately 30 minutes.

Free rapid lateral flow testing continues to be available in the community through local authorities. There are supervised testing centres in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and some other nearby local authority areas. See links below for details of community lateral flow testing local to you.

You should only take these tests if you do not currently have symptoms. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 you should book a PCR test via the University or NHS symptomatic screening service.

Anyone who tests positive with an LFT should self-isolate in line with government guidance and seek a more clinically precise PCR test (i.e. a regular COVID test) through the University’s testing sites to confirm the result. You should also report to the COVID Helpdesk via the COVID monitoring form.

You can sign up for lateral flow testing via the University website. You will then receive an email with further information about how to obtain kits, register each test and report results to both the University and the NHS. You will need to inform the University that you have taken a test, so that we can monitor the number of LFT tests being taken, but you do not need to inform us of a negative result.

If you test negative with an LFT, but have any symptoms of coronavirus, you must still self-isolate immediately, and book a PCR test as soon as possible either via University testing or the NHS.

Lateral flow test FAQs

Q. What is lateral flow home testing (LFT)?

Lateral flow testing involves processing a nasal swab sample with a small device that detects an antigen that is produced when a person is infected with COVID-19. The LFT can deliver a result in 30 minutes. 

By supplying these tests for home use, we are trying to find people who may have no symptoms but are infectious. This type of test is very good at identifying people who have lots of the virus, and are infectious on the day, but isn't as good at finding the virus in people who aren’t infectious yet (i.e. early in the infection).

This is different from the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that you can access through the University or the NHS if you have symptoms. 

Q. What is the difference between LFT and PCR testing?

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are the 'normal' COVID-19 tests you get through the University or the NHS if you have symptoms. LFT and PCR tests both involve taking a swab sample from your nose (and sometimes throat): the difference is in how that sample is analysed. In a lateral flow test the sample is analysed ‘on the spot’ with a small device that gives a result in 30 minutes (a bit like a home pregnancy test). In a PCR test the sample is sent off to a lab to be analysed, so it takes longer to get the result. The PCR tests are better at finding very small amounts of the virus, so they give a more clinically precise result. 

In short, lateral flow tests are quicker than PCR tests, but PCR tests are more sensitive. 

Important: If you have a positive lateral flow test you must self-isolate immediately and book a confirmatory PCR test. Members of your household must also self-isolate, in line with government guidance. If you get a negative PCR test after a positive lateral flow test, you should take a second PCR test. Only if the second PCR test is negative can you and your household stop isolating and return to work. 

Q. Are LFT tests mandatory or voluntary?

Use of this test kit is entirely optional. You may withdraw from the programme at any time. You must not use the tests if you feel unable to safely self-administer them or if you are otherwise unsure or unhappy doing so.

Q. Can I get lateral flow tests if I am a student?

Wherever possible, we recommend that students participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. Nonetheless, some students are NOT eligible for the programme (for example, some students living in private accommodation). These students are strongly encouraged to sign up for lateral flow home testing.

Lateral flow tests (LFTs) are available free of charge to all adults in England through the NHS. Kits can be ordered for home delivery, or collected from some pharmacies and test sites. They involve a self-administered nose and mouth swab, and deliver results in approximately 30 minutes.

Because LFTs are less sensitive than PCR tests, it’s very important to take these tests twice a week, on a Monday and Thursday. Anyone who tests positive should self-isolate immediately, and obtain a confirmatory PCR test from their College. These are the same individual confirmatory tests we use for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. You should also report any positive LFT results to the COVID-19 Helpdesk via the COVID-19 monitoring form.

Please note that, if you have symptoms of possible COVID-19, it’s very important that you self-isolate, and book a PCR test as soon as possible – do NOT rely on an LFT. Further information about the use of LFTs for students who are NOT eligible for the screening programme is available here.

Q. What do I do if my LFT is positive?

  1. Self-isolate in line with Government guidelines. Members of your household must also isolate. 
  2. Inform your line manager. 
  3. Book a PCR test through the University testing programme.   
  4. Complete a COVID monitoring form. Data from the submission of these forms are monitored daily by the University’s COVID helpdesk, which will follow up with close contacts and advise on any outbreaks that may arise in University or College buildings with support from local public health teams. 
  5. Attend the PCR test. 
  6. Await confirmation of the result. When you receive your result contact your line manager. 
  7. If the PCR test is negative, you should book and take a second PCR test. If the second PCR test is also negative, and you remain asymptomatic, you and your household can stop self-isolating and return to work. 

Q. If my LFT is positive, will my household have to self-isolate?

Yes, your household will have to self-isolate pending the outcome of the confirmatory PCR test. If the confirmatory PCR test is positive then you and your household will have to isolate in line with government guidelines - i.e. for 10 full days from the date that you took the lateral flow test (or the onset of symptoms, if you develop symptoms after your test was taken).

Q. What if I have a positive LFT result followed by a negative PCR result?

Inform your line manager. You should then take a second PCR test. This is because the false positive rate from LFTs is relatively low, i.e if you have a positive LFT there is a strong chance that you have COVID-19. A second negative PCR test is required to be absolutely certain that you do not have COVID-19.

If the second PCR test is also negative, you can resume work and your household no longer needs to self- isolate, as long as you remain asymptomatic. 

Q. What if my LFT is negative but I have symptoms?

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, do not take a lateral flow test – instead, you should self-isolate and contact the University or NHS to arrange a PCR test. Notify your absence from work via the usual routes.

Q. What happens if my test result is invalid/inconclusive?

If this is the first time, please repeat all steps using a new swab and new test cartridge, taking care to follow all steps in the correct order as described.

Q. If I have a positive PCR test, when should I start the lateral flow tests again?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and have received confirmation of this via a PCR test, you need to wait 90 days after your PCR test was taken before starting lateral flow home testing again. This is because LFT kits sometimes give false positive results if a person has recently had COVID-19. You will need to be responsible for tracking the date at which the retesting should start.

Q. I have had a positive COVID test within the last 90 days - can I take a lateral flow test?

You should not take an LFT if you have tested positive for COVID-19 (via a PCR test) in the last 90 days. If you received a positive test result more than 90 days ago e.g. in the first wave, you are encouraged to take the tests. 

Q. Should I continue testing after I’ve had the vaccine?

Yes, continue to test even if you have had the vaccine. 

Q. What are the chances of a false positive result with LFTs?

The chances of a false positive are very low - likely less than 0.4%. This means that if you get a positive result from a LFT test you almost certainly have COVID-19, and you and your household should immediately self-isolate following government guidelines. We ask you to still book a confirmatory PCR test through the University's testing sites because a) that way your test result can be recorded for contact tracing and public health record-keeping, and b) it provides additional data to help scientists who are studying the use of LFTs as a COVID management tool.

Q. What are the chances of a false negative result with LFTs?

The chances of a false negative with LFTs - i.e. the test says you do not have COVID-19, but in fact you have the virus and are infectious - have not been definitively established. We know that LFTs are good at detecting strong cases of infection but not as sensitive as PCR tests for detecting small amounts of the virus. We believe that these LFTs will probably pick up around half of all individuals who would be confirmed as positive through a PCR test but at least two thirds of those with a strongly positive PCR test (i.e. the most infectious individuals). This means that if you get a negative result with an LFT, it does not guarantee that you are free from COVID-19: there is still a chance that you have the virus. This is why it is still vitally important to 'act as if you have the virus' at all times, and to follow all the public health measures - such as social distancing, hand-washing and wearing face-coverings - carefully.