Policy paper

Community testing: a guide for local delivery

Updated 24 February 2021

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Executive summary

Community testing as part of the UK government’s wider strategy for tackling the virus

As the government set out in the COVID-19 Winter Plan, published on Monday 23 November, the fight against the virus over the coming months will rely less on economic and social restrictions and more on solutions provided by scientific progress. This shift will not happen overnight and it relies on progress especially in vaccines and testing.

The rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 has already begun in the UK, with 3 vaccines already approved (Pfizer BioNTech, Oxford AstraZeneca and Moderna) and being delivered. Current vaccination delivery plans aim to reach 75% of the eligible UK population by April 2021, with the most high-risk groups receiving the vaccination first. Our ambition is to ensure that all those in Phase 1 of vaccine deployment receive at least one dose during the current period of national restrictions. However, effective suppression of COVID-19 transmission will continue to be vital to manage the virus even as vaccines are rolled out in the UK and globally, including for those who cannot be vaccinated.

We know that up to a third of individuals who test positive for coronavirus have no symptoms at all and can therefore spread it unknowingly. That is why the testing of asymptomatic individuals is so important. The government already has in place, through NHS Test and Trace, a broad range of approaches to target asymptomatic people including those working in the NHS and in social care and those in other high-risk settings.

The Community Testing Programme (CTP) was launched in December 2020 to enable local authorities with high prevalence of COVID-19 to work in partnership with the UK government to accelerate a reduction in prevalence by identifying asymptomatic cases through local testing and supporting them to isolate. It works alongside other forms of symptomatic and asymptomatic testing led by national government and has a powerful role to play in protecting the public’s safety and wellbeing, particularly by providing testing to critical local services and hard to reach communities based on local knowledge and prioritisation.

Community testing is an important addition to our armoury in the fight against COVID-19 over the coming months. Alongside other testing options, and as part of a wider strategy also covering contact tracing and vaccination, roll-out has the potential to make a real difference to the course of the virus in some areas. Using rapid response lateral flow devices (LFDs), the Community Testing Programme offers local areas the opportunity to deploy large-scale testing to asymptomatic individuals in the way that best suits them and the needs of their communities.

Things have changed since the programme was first established. Even prior to the announcement of national restrictions, an increasing number of local authority areas were falling within higher levels of restrictions. We have seen the emergence of a new strain of COVID-19 which is much more contagious. We are rolling out a national vaccination programme.

We have also merged the Community Testing Programme and DPH-led testing into a single offer to local authorities. During the current period of national restrictions we are focusing our asymptomatic testing to protect the those who are permitted to leave home for essential reasons who are at greater risk of catching the virus and who cannot access asymptomatic testing through routes.

We recently announced 3 important changes:

  • first, the programme will be extended to all local authorities across England, not just those that had previously been prioritised based on the Tier system. It is important that every authority now joins the programme. It will deliver a step-change in identifying cases and reducing prevalence in our communities

  • second, the government will support the programme until at least the end of March 2021, with continued provision of lateral flow tests, funding up to £14 per test and wider support from central government

  • third, while participating authorities will continue to have flexibility to target plans to reflect local priorities and the local epidemiological picture, during the lockdown period it is most important that local authorities make testing available to those people who are permitted to leave home for work (including essential voluntary work) and who are unable to access asymptomatic testing through other routes,particularly those who are critical to supporting communities, responding to the pandemic and/or at higher risk of infection and transmission

This document sets out the government’s offer of support and invites all local authorities in England interested in community testing or looking to revise their existing community testing approach to develop plans for consideration.

What the Community Testing Programme is

This section provides an overview of community testing, including its key benefits.

Community testing within the government’s overarching testing strategy

The COVID-19 Winter Plan published on 23 November set out the government’s programme for suppressing the virus, protecting the NHS and the vulnerable, keeping education and the economy going and providing a route back to normality. The government continues to work closely with the devolved administrations and local authorities in England to protect the lives and livelihood of people across the whole of the UK.

A UK-wide vaccination plan is a crucial part of this. The UK has already vaccinated over 1 million people, but testing, tracing and isolation remain key tools to suppress the virus and to return to life as close to normal as possible, in a way that minimises lives lost and maximises health, economic and social outcomes.

Testing makes it possible to identify people who have the virus and target support to help those who are positive and their contacts to isolate so chains of transmission of the virus can be broken. We have already built the largest COVID-19 testing capacity in Europe, up from 2,000 tests a day in March to current capacity of more than half a million. NHS Test and Trace is continuing to increase capacity further and bringing on new technological developments.

We know that up to a third of individuals who test positive for coronavirus have no symptoms at the time of the test and can therefore spread it unknowingly. So testing of asymptomatic individuals is an important additional tool to identify more people with the virus, and support them with self-isolation to stop the spread of the virus through communities. With the current national lockdown now in place, we are focusing on testing people who are permitted to leave home for work (including essential voluntary work) and who are unable to access asymptomatic testing through other routes,particularly those who are critical to supporting communities, responding to the pandemic and/or at higher risk of infection and transmission.

The government, through NHS Test and Trace, has already put in place national programmes for asymptomatic testing of key groups including NHS staff, care home staff and residents, wider social care and the food production sector using the expansion of testing capacity and new testing technologies that have been developed. Alongside and in tandem with these approaches, many local areas have been developing and delivering testing regimes tailored to the needs of their communities.

How community testing works and what it’s trying to achieve

Through the Community Testing Programme we are working with local authorities to support their wider strategies for tackling the virus. Initially, the immediate priority was for us to work with local authorities in England in Tier 3 and 4. But the context has changed ‒ even prior to the announcement of a national lockdown, an increasing number of local authority areas were falling within higher levels of restrictions. We have seen the emergence of a new strain of COVID-19, which is much more contagious.

In light of this, the programme is being offered to all local authorities throughout England. Over 100 local authorities are already part of the community testing programme and many others are already delivering local asymptomatic testing through the director of public health led testing programme. By expanding the scope and extending the duration of the Community Testing Programme it means that every local authority will now benefit from enhanced support to grow and accelerate these plans, and in recognition of this change a decision has been taken to formally merge these 2 programmes so that there is one streamlined programme for all locally led asymptomatic testing.

Community testing using rapid lateral flow devices can help identify those people who are infectious but asymptomatic and unaware that they might be spreading the disease, so that we can trace their contacts, support them to isolate and prevent transmission to others. Identifying infectious individuals early, and those they have been in close contact with, and then isolating them can significantly reduce transmission of the virus and break transmission chains.

A key principle of the programme is nationally provided support and funding to testing that is prioritised and targeted locally, with directors of public health and local authorities developing approaches that work best for their citizens. During national restrictions there are only a limited number of reasons for people to leave home, therefore we are focusing our asymptomatic testing on those that are permitted to leave home for essential reasons who are at greater risk of catching the virus and who cannot access asymptomatic testing through routes.

The Community Testing Programme supports intelligence-led local priorities and expects that community testing infrastructure will be established or directed in local areas to ensure these people can access rapid tests, in order to ensure vital public and economic services can continue and protect those at the highest risk of transmission. As the country emerges from national restrictions local authorities should continue to adjust their community testing to target high risk groups, accordingly to their particular local needs and priorities.

Devolved administrations

While health is a devolved matter, the testing programme has successfully been run on a UK-wide basis. The devolved administrations are engaging with us on community testing, albeit with differences between nations in how it is delivered. We have shared the key lessons with each other from all pilots that have been run to date and all nations will continue to share planning and learning, to help each other as part of a shared endeavour across the whole of the UK.

How the Community Testing Programme works

This section provides more detail on how the programme will work.

What the programme could look like in your area

It will be for local authorities in partnership with their directors of public health and with the support of NHS Test and Trace regional convenors, to design a programme that maximises accessibility to, and take-up of, asymptomatic testing in their area, with ‒ for the time being ‒ a particular focus on people who are permitted to leave home for essential reasons and are unable to access asymptomatic testing through other routes while national restrictions are in place. This may build on existing local testing plans developed for DPH-led testing.

The Community Testing Programme is working with local authorities in England and devolved administrations to mobilise ambitious community testing regimes. Support for the programme will be provided until at least the end of March 2021. Local directors of public health are able to develop tailored approaches that will work for their community, drawing from the approaches set out in this section of the document, and if desired, in collaboration with relevant local groups. We are keen to support ambitious and innovative approaches that communities can benefit from and the whole country can learn from.

How contact tracing will work

We know that testing alone will not break the chains of transmission and help reduce prevalence – people testing positive must self-isolate, and we must identify and trace their contacts to stop the virus spreading further. NHS Test and Trace will continue to work closely with local areas to ensure tracing services are available.

In particular, Local Tracing Partnerships are integral to the enhanced tracing service, which traces back to identify settings where people have been infected and helps facilitate quicker and more efficient public health interventions locally. By working through Local Tracing Partnerships on enhanced contact tracing, there is an increased opportunity to stop the transmission of the virus in local venues, and the expectation is that enhanced tracing will be a key tool to helping the nation transition and move out of national restrictions.

If local areas are part of the Local Tracing Partnerships programme, we will work together to ensure that capacity and resources are available to maintain the existing local tracing arrangements for asymptomatic cases.

If local areas are not part of the Local Tracing Partnerships programme, we will work at pace to bring this service onboard and to facilitate local tracing. Local Tracing Partnerships currently cover over two-thirds of the country. The key to Local Tracing Partnerships is to tailor a regional trace capability, including isolation support and enhanced tracing, to reduce the regional infection rates.

In order to further develop the tracing service there are opportunities to work closely with local areas and enhance the standard service. This will allow areas to develop an even stronger local response to tracing and rising demand in the specific area. Examples of initial enhancements the service is considering include following up on isolation support payments to ensure those instructed to self-isolate are doing so and beginning tracing earlier in the overall process. We will continue to work with local authorities to consider proposals to support self-isolation where individuals test positive.

All the tracing support outlined here will be aligned with the additional support provided to areas by NHS Test and Trace. If areas are not already part of a Local Tracing Partnership or want implementation accelerated, this should be included in proposals. Equally if areas want to propose a way of building on existing partnerships to go further than previously planned, this should also be included in proposals.

Previously within the Community Testing Programme there was a requirement for a confirmatory positive PCR test to trigger tracing of contacts and legal duty to self-isolate. However as a result of the implementation of national restrictions this policy is under urgent review with consideration to implement tracing and legal duty to self-isolate on receipt of a positive LFD test for a temporary period. Further details of the timescales and details of these policy changes will be shared with local authorities through the regional convenors network as soon as possible.

Equalities considerations

Local areas will want to consider a range of approaches to engage their citizens and communities. While the priority remains provision of testing to people who are permitted to leave home for essential reasons and are unable to access asymptomatic testing through other routes, local areas may also wish to give particular consideration to those groups previously identified as having low engagement with COVID-19 testing within their communities. We would welcome working with local areas as they give particular consideration to how to reach vulnerable, hard to reach groups and those with protected characteristics. Local areas may wish to consider the following when ensuring testing has the broadest reach in their area:

  • access to testing: using highly devolved approach to increase access to testing, considering diversity in recruitment of testing administrators to encourage maximal participation from all groups

  • communications: considering accessibility, language, and media requirements for example reaching those without internet access. Note: Government Communication Service support will be available

  • encouraging participation: ensuring that any means used to encourage participation in testing and support for self-isolation is open and relevant to all groups

Details of how local areas are considering taking these considerations into account should be included in proposals

Encouraging people to take part and support for self-isolation

To get the most out of community testing, levels of participation and compliance with self-isolation need to be high. The more people tested, and the more positive cases and their contacts isolated, the greater the reduction in prevalence in a local area.

Community testing will be locally delivered: it is for local areas to determine the best way to target testing, maximise the reduction in prevalence, consider participation incentives for their communities and provide targeted support to those having to self-isolate. Local areas should, where possible, collaborate with local groups who can help increase engagement with the target cohort and develop initiatives around supporting self-isolation. Central government will continue to work actively with local authorities to develop these initiatives.

While local authorities should tailor incentives to their local needs, a number of non-negotiable principles apply across the Community Testing Programme:

  • testing cannot be mandatory

  • all incentive measures designed to drive greater turn out or compliance with self-isolation measures will need to be modelled to ensure clinical safety and signed off by both the local director of public health and chief executive.

Participation initiatives for community testing will continue to be designed to increase participation safely and encourage those who test positive to comply fully with self-isolation rules through a range of support delivered locally.

Supporting participation

Measures to incentivise participation in testing and to support individuals through self-isolation can be considered and these can be tailored to suit the needs of the local area, including any specific local targets for the Community Testing Programme.

The government is keen to work in partnership with local areas to develop these initiatives. Local areas are best placed to come up with these as they have the best knowledge of their local populations and areas, but central government is particularly interested in hearing from local authorities as they develop plans.

Supporting isolation

As set out in the COVID-19 Winter Plan published on 23 November, the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF) has been increased so that it can provide monthly payments to local areas facing higher restrictions until the end of the financial year.

Local authorities should consider how they can use the COMF fund to provide additional wrap around support for those facing isolation restrictions as a result of a positive lateral flow device test, or through contact tracing. The government is particularly interested in working with local authorities are they develop proposals to support individuals self-isolating.

The outcomes of ongoing work to review support for isolation will be shared with regional convenors and local authorities as soon as it is available.

What support is available from central government

To ensure we can move ahead as quickly as possible, with as many local areas as possible, we are making a consistent offer to local areas, and have a consistent ask. This section outlines the central government support available and what is required of local areas who wish to take part.

How we will provide support to local areas

The programme has already established close relationships with over 100 participating local areas and wants to continue to do this as efficiently as possible. NHS Test and Trace regional convenors and Community Testing Programme Liaison Teams support local areas in the initial design phase through to delivery. The regional convenors work with other members of the Regional Partnership Team including the regional directors of public health, to provide a link back into the NHS Test and Trace, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and support coordination between areas and with government agencies. As participating local areas are identified, Local Liaison Teams can offer further guidance and detailed planning support.

What testing support is available

The government will support local areas that join the Community Testing Programme with lateral flow devices (LFDs) and guidance on how to set up and safely operate asymptomatic test sites. A range of tools and assets are provided to local authorities through an online collaboration platform and central Engagement Teams are available to support you through the application process. Standard operational and clinical procedures are also provided through the collaboration site, as well as ongoing operational support for incidents, re-orders of LFDs etc.

Clinical protocols have been developed in accordance with the scientific validation of lateral flow devices. The government welcomes conversations with local directors of public health about how community testing protocols can be adapted to have the greatest impact on local priorities.

There are several lateral flow device products which have undergone, or are in the process of undergoing, independent validation. These lateral flow devices are CE certified. Some of the use envisaged by community testing may be outside the manufacturer’s instruction for use (IFU). DHSC remain in discussion with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and further information and guidelines will be provided to directors of public health prior to commencement of the programme.

What operational support is available

Community Testing Liaison Teams are available to provide advice and planning support at the regional and local level. This includes communications support, logistical support and lessons from other testing pilots and programmes. These Community Testing Liaison Teams will be a key point of contact for the local area and can elevate queries and concerns to the national level.

The Community Testing Liaison Teams have a range of tools available to them, which they can share with local areas as they develop their plans. A clinical standard operating procedure (SOP) and a lateral flow testing guidebook will be provided, which includes:

  • the citizen testing journey. Proposed citizen journeys, both digitally and non-digitally enabled. Aspects of these journeys can be tailored to suit local need

  • the end-to-end testing process. Guidance on how to conduct the testing process, including the required quality assurance and clinical governance processes

  • digital support for the testing processes. Digital software solutions for user registration, results capture and delivery

  • guidance on how to identify, select and set up new test sites. Local areas will be able to select venues based on their suitability and proximity to community groups. Site templates will be included which will detail optimised site layouts based on size and throughput. Local workforce will usually be responsible for setting up and running test sites

  • guidance on how to order test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). Local liaison teams will support local areas to confirm the population they would like to test and work through the processes for acquiring the necessary equipment including PPE, testing kits and other mandatory and recommended materials

  • workforce blueprint. This provides information on the roles and tasks needed to operate a testing site and indicative workforce size in relation to the size of test site identified

In addition to the guidebook, local areas will be able to draw on centrally provided tools, insights and information to help scale a suitable workforce to support the delivery of community testing. This includes the following:

  • training: online training covering all aspects of the skills and knowledge required to deliver lateral flow testing. Materials will also be available to enable delivery of the training through other channels

  • national sourcing: Community Testing Programme has held discussions with numerous commercial suppliers, voluntary organisations and employers with large numbers of furloughed employees, all of whom have signalled their willingness to help provide workforce to support the rollout of community testing. Where local areas require workforce in addition to their own recruitment strategies, the programme can offer a consultancy session to discuss which options can best suit the specific workforce requirements. The Crown Commercial Service is also available to provide support and guidance to access rapid contingent labour via CCS frameworks. Local areas are advised to request both the commercial and consultancy support offer via their regional convenor

  • detailed workforce modelling: extensive workforce models to provide indicative numbers of staff for each role required to operate a test site effectively and safely

  • organisation design/roles: role profiles have been designed for the key roles in a site and some early thinking on the roles local areas may choose to have as part of local teams.

  • consultation support: central workforce teams are available for an initial session to take local areas through the workforce options detailed in the blueprint

  • commercial support: central workforce teams are available to guide local areas to the correct commercial frameworks supplied by Crown Commercial Service. These are RM6160 and RM3830 for workforce requirements, RM3830 for Waste, RM6068 Lot 2 for tech products, RM3837 Lot 9 for furniture and PPE, and RM6074 for Logistics

What military support is available

Some level of military support may be available at the outset of each programme if required (provided through the Community Testing Liaison Teams), to assist with planning. Military involvement beyond that will be dependent on the local area’s community testing plan and their ability to generate a civilian workforce to deliver it.

When all other avenues to find workforce have been exhausted, and a local area’s proposal still requires additional support from the military, we will seek to arrange this. Costs associated with requests for military support will have to be factored into the local area’s workforce cost model. This will most likely be in support of the following activities:

  • site set-up and logistic support and advice

  • site supervision and workforce management

  • more substantial contributions to site delivery

Finance and funding overview

The Community Testing Programme budget of £820 million covers local authorities across England. Of the above amount, c. £32 million representing the first of 3 instalments totalling c. £228 million in approved spending has been disbursed to already participating local authorities. The number of participating local authorities will increase dramatically in the weeks ahead.

The approved funding initially covered Tier 3 and 4 local authorities which focused on asymptomatic hard to reach segments of the population. This has changed with the recent announcement of national restrictions. There is some uncertainty around how community testing could unfold as a result of the national lockdown announced on 4 January. Footfall may be lower than planned, affecting the level of actual activity and spend against the Community Testing budget.

Funding available to local areas will be estimated based on the number of tests they aim to deliver. Total funding per test is set at a maximum of £14.00, for all local authorities participating in the Community Testing Programme, however up to £6 of materials per test can be sourced from centrally procured arrangements in place. This funding per test is expected to cover all reasonable costs associated with the programme including site costs, workforce costs, PPE requirements, communication and marketing, logistic and other delivery costs.

The cost per test used to calculate the estimated funding envelope will be applied equally across all participating local areas, but local areas will be free to plan to use funding within this cap differently. Funding will be delivered in instalments. The first payment will support delivery and set up costs for the first week of testing, with subsequent payments made on delivery of receipts. Overall funding provided will be based on actuals up to the agreed funding cap.

Funding will only be available to deliver testing over and above testing provided by existing testing programmes (the regional convenor will be able to advise) and must not duplicate existing funding including other funding provided to support the response to COVID-19. This should be considered to avoid writing in areas of overlap in the target cohort or approach, when completing the local area proposal.

The funding available through this programme is additional to the support for local areas’ public health responses through the Contain Outbreak Management Fund. Local authorities are encouraged to think about how they can use part of this funding to complement their community testing strategy and should avoid overlapping testing programmes.

What communications support is available

Effective communications play a vital role in encouraging local citizens to take part in community testing. Local authorities are provided with a communications package and guidelines as part of the toolkit; however, tailoring this and deploying it locally remains the responsibility of the local authority.

The Government Communication Service will work collaboratively with local areas to offer bespoke communications support, tailored to local need, decisions on testing priorities and key audiences to engage. We will work in partnership with each local area, so that they can determine the level of support required.

The government is offering a strengthened package of communications support to help local citizens understand the reasons for implementing community testing; the benefits to the community of increased testing; reasons to get tested and support available for those who test positive and have to self-isolate; and to increase awareness of when and how to get a test in their area.

This package will include a public information campaign that could be used locally to drive awareness and uptake of testing. A campaign toolkit will also be provided to local areas to personalise the campaign for their communities. The digital capability to provide a platform from which people can easily find a local asymptomatic test sites exists and is available now for Local authorities to tailor to their own needs. We can help authorities onboard and customise the capability for their local needs.

Combining of community testing with DPH-led testing

In recognition of the extension of community testing to all local authorities a decision has been taken to formally merge these 2 programmes so that there is one streamlined programme for all locally led asymptomatic testing.

We will work with local authorities who are currently delivering DPH-Led testing to support them transition into the Community Testing Programme as smoothly as possible so there is no disruption to local delivery.

In terms of financial support for local testing. To ensure that there is no disruption to any planned testing, from 11 January any testing due to be delivered under DPH led testing will be eligible for the £14 a test funding under the Community Testing Programme subject to local authorities subsequently successfully joining Community Testing by going through the process set out in this prospectus.

Interaction with other asymptomatic testing

Community testing an important strand of a wider plan to increase availability of asymptomatic testing. The ambition of that plan is that anyone that cannot work from home during periods of national restrictions has access to rapid asymptomatic testing through one of 3 delivery channels:

1. Institution/employer-led testing

NHS Test and Trace is working with government departments, institutions and employers across both public and private sectors to support delivery of asymptomatic testing to organisations with more than 250 employees, including those providing critical services. Delivery will be through on-site testing in the workplace, the option to refer employees to a particular testing site and rollout of testing at home to individuals (subject to further MHRA approvals). NHS Test and Trace will provide tests, other peripherals, standard operating procedures, training and other guidance (tests will be provided free to private institutions until the end of March). This franchise model builds on the rollouts that have already been undertaken for NHS staff, adult social care sector, universities and schools.

2. Community testing

Expanding the Community Testing Programme to all local authorities in England until at least end of March with establishment of asymptomatic testing sites (ATS) in communities focusing testing of those people that are permitted to leave home for essential reasons, including those unable to access asymptomatic testing through other routes. Community testing is the route through which staff of employers smaller than 250 people would access asymptomatic testing.

3. Home testing

Accessing testing through either a collection or postal model (once this is approved).

We recognise that as each of these channels develop and are scaled up, there is potential for overlap and we will therefore work closely with local authorities, regional convenors and NHS Test and Trace to ensure a common understanding of approach to ensure citizens are directed to the most appropriate asymptomatic testing channel for their needs. We will also ensure information on which employers are engaged in institutional testing is made available to local authorities to aid planning of their community testing programmes.

Emerging capabilities

We are in the process of evaluating lateral flow devices for use at home, and for daily contact testing.

Home use

Lateral flow devices are currently deployed in supervised settings – that is, trained staff are involved in processing tests using the devices and reading the results. We are close to being able to allow people to process and read the results of these tests themselves. Once the approvals and technology are in place, we will then be able to start to allow people to take tests home from their workplace or school, and ultimately for some people to get tests delivered to home or collected locally (for example, local retail).

Daily contact testing

At present, identified contacts of someone who tests positive for coronavirus are required to self-isolate for 10 days. We know that contacts are themselves at greater risk of developing coronavirus than the general population. Testing contacts daily for 7 days offers the prospect of finding more asymptomatic cases amongst contacts, and of tracing contacts of those contacts. As compliance with self-isolation is variable, particularly among asymptomatic contacts, using daily contact testing as an alternative to self-isolation may also increase compliance and reduce onwards transmission. Daily contact testing is already being evaluated in a number of settings; assuming the evaluations are successful and MHRA approval is obtained we will expand daily contact testing into further institutions. We will consider requests from local authorities to participate in the evaluations.

While we are working hard to make self-test and daily contact tracing available more broadly, local authorities should assume that ATS will continue to be the principal delivery channel for asymptomatic testing for some time.

How your local area can get involved

This section sets out how local authorities in England can get involved. NHS Test and Trace regional convenors should be the first point of contact for questions as well as providing direct support to develop proposals.

Who can take part

All local authorities in England are now eligible to take part. We will also accept joint proposals from multiple local authorities, plus those in partnership with other public bodies, and/or the voluntary and community sector, but the leading local authority must be identified. The programme has received several of these joint proposals to date, and noted that there were benefits seen in reducing administration, pooling of resources and providing more tangible decision-making on who, where and how local people were tested.

What proposals need to demonstrate

In bringing their proposals together local authorities should consider the following:

  • the state of the pandemic (including pressures on health and social care services) in the area, including how the proposal will drive down prevalence, improve the disease trajectory and the anticipated wider public health benefits

  • the most appropriate means to deliver asymptomatic testing locally. This includes logistical factors such as the availability of suitable locations to set up test sites (including those based within the community and those set up around specific businesses/industries with higher prevalence risk),whether the workforce can be secured or is in train, and with national restrictions in place, whether the people local authorities would target for testing are likely to come out of their homes to take a test

  • the capabilities that the local authority can bring to maximise participation (for example, communications, incentives, local engagement etc)

  • how to engage and support vulnerable individuals or those with protected characteristics, in line with the Public Sector Equalities Duty

  • how to make the proposals as ambitious as possible

  • how the proposal complements or seeks to avoid overlap with other existing testing programmes, but recognising that will at times be challenging (for example schools, NHS, national institution testing)

  • the ability to commence delivery in very short timescales in order to support those permitted to leave home for essential reasons (including essential voluntary work) during period of national restrictions

  • how well the proposal demonstrates value for money (ensuring that the funding requested is proportionate to the issues being addressed and that efficiencies are being driven)

  • how well the proposal demonstrates the commitment to drive participation in community testing and compliance with self-isolation


Community testing reports data on a daily and weekly basis to allow for operational monitoring and support. Additionally, it seeks to establish public health and other benefits, and also value for money of this testing approach. DHSC will commission an independent evaluation of the programme, working at a local and national level. Given the lead time required to procure this, PHE will take immediate preliminary steps to speed up the process and create tools to gather data that will then be shared with whoever is appointed to deliver the evaluation. Commissioning an independently led evaluation will reduce the potential friction of government oversight and direction on a predominantly local-led programme, and minimise the opportunity for optimism bias.

How to take part

All local authorities are invited to work with their regional convenors to develop plans and submit a proposal (annex A) detailing their ambitions for community testing as soon as possible.

Community Testing requests all local authorities to submit this annex A (if you do not have access, please contact your regional convenor), which includes separate processes depending on whether they are already part of the programme:

  • local authorities that are yet to be involved in community testing
  • local authorities that are currently delivering community testing, but want to change their approach based on situational changes, for example national restrictions, or desired changes to target cohorts
  • local authorities that are currently delivering community testing and want to maintain their current delivery approach – please note that these local authorities will need to submit a confirmation email using the link in annex A

Alongside annex A, all local authorities that are part of a joint application should also individually confirm their acceptance of the Collaboration Agreement and provide details of anticipated funding mechanisms that would be used to receive the £14 per test available (this is required for joint proposals from multiple local authorities). The Collaboration Agreement is included (if you do not have access, please contact your regional convenor).

The Engagement Teams will receive and evaluate these proposals against the criteria set out above. This is a critical national programme and the Engagement Teams will work with regional convenors to ensure all proposals can be processed as quickly as possible. However, the likelihood of rapid approval is increased if clear, well-defined submissions are received at the outset. Annex A sets out the information required in the initial application.

The final decision on which proposals will receive support, in which order, will be made by ministers, based on views from the regional convenors and the programme SRO. However, changes to existing community testing plans made by local authorities to adjust prioritisation and targeting during the period of national restrictions will not as a rule require ministerial approval.

Feedback on proposals, including any conditions against which approval has been granted, will be communicated to local authorities by the Community Testing Engagement Team.

Who to contact for more information

If you work for a local authority, please email communitytesting.centralops@dhsc.gov.uk for more information or speak to your regional convenor.

If you are a business or member of the general public, find out if your area offers rapid testing for people without symptoms.