GPs have expressed workload and patient safety concerns about at-home testing as Tesco launched a range of self-diagnostic products, including for bowel cancer and menopause.
The product range, which costs between £8 and £12.50, became available from 28 February in 500 Tesco stores as well as online.
The company behind the testing range, Newfoundland, said the tests are intended to be ‘complementary to a visit to the doctor’.
The products also aim to ’empower consumers to take control of their own health’ and could reduce the burden on the strained health service, according to Newfoundland.
Launching the product line with Tesco, Newfoundland said at-home testing could reduce the burden on the NHS ‘at a critical time’, citing a poll from the i which showed nearly a quarter of patients went to A&E because they could not access GP appointments.
The list of tests available at Tesco includes:
- FOB rapid bowel health (used for bowel cancer screening)
- SP-10 male fertility
- Vitamin D
- Ferritin rapid
- TSH thyroid
- FSH menopause (midstream)
- Microalbuminuria (MAU) – indicator of chronic kidney disease
- Influenza A/B
But RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne warned that at-home self-diagnostic products ‘come with pros and cons’ and discouraged patients from paying for tests that are free on the NHS ‘where appropriate’.
According to Professor Hawthorne, while self-testing may help to avoid patients having to seek medical assistance for minor conditions, lots of patients book GP appointments to get help interpreting the test results, even if they do not need GP services.
She added: ‘This also takes up valuable GP time when we and our teams are working under considerable pressure, and patients who really need our care and services are struggling to access them.’
Of at-home testing products in general, Professor Hawthorne said: ‘Without the appropriate aftercare services, patients may not know how to properly interpret results, or safely and appropriately act on them. In the case of more serious conditions, such as cancer, people may not have the appropriate support in place to deal with what could be very distressing news.
‘Some tests are also quite general, not testing for a specific condition, carrying the risk that some of the results will be unimportant or of dubious value and could leave people unnecessarily confused and distressed.
‘That is why we would only suggest that if people are going to use self tests, they only use kits that are evidence based and have been quality assured.’
Dr Margaret McCartney, a GP and writer, said companies offering tests like this ‘should be legally obliged to employ qualified medical staff to follow up the results’.
She said: ‘For too long many companies have misinformed people, sold tests, and walked away with the expectation that the NHS should sort out the results.’
Dr McCartney also called on the Government to ‘rapidly organise a legislative response’ to at-home testing, saying the current legislation on selling these products ‘is not fit for purpose’.
Newfoundland told Pulse it plans to expand the range available at Tesco and is exploring other retail partnerships for their at-home testing products.
The company was founded in 2021 during the pandemic and partnered with Acon to become the UK distributor of the Flowflex rapid antigen test.
A spokesperson for Newfoundland said all test kits include ‘comprehensive information’ based on NHS advice, as well as a dedicated app to help patients interpret results and plan next steps.
They added: ‘These tests are designed to be complementary to a visit to the doctor, and not instead of.
‘Tests can act as a helpful tool for the consumer to monitor their health, for example, their iron deficiency or vitamin D levels, and this can be valuable information for both the consumer and their GP.
‘The tests provide valuable information specific to their own health anxieties and even something that they have previously seen a doctor for.’
Earlier this month, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) upheld a complaint made by a GP against a company that advertised an at-home blood test to help people manage their health as ‘free if we don’t find anything’.