DENTISTS, pharmacists and GP receptionists will be asked to self-test for Covid twice a week from the end of March under plans to make lateral flow kits widely available.

The devices have already been provided since December to frontline NHS staff such as doctors and nurses, and are being rolled out from this week to call handlers working for NHS 24 and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Twice weekly self-testing will also be offered to staff working in hospices, and by the end of March to all healthcare staff in contact with patients.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Over the coming weeks we will further expand testing to people in the primary care sector and independent contractors, who come into contact with patients.

"In many cases they are not directly employed by health boards but they obviously perform an immensely valuable role.

"So what that means for example is that regular testing will be available to staff in pharmacy, dentistry, optometry and general practice - including support staff such as receptionists and cleaners.

"And the aim is that by the end of March, all healthcare workers who come into contact with patients – whether that’s in hospitals, or in primary care settings or the wider community – will be able to self-test twice a week."

HeraldScotland: Lateral flow testing was used in December to facilitate students returning home for ChristmasLateral flow testing was used in December to facilitate students returning home for Christmas

Ms Sturgeon said anyone who tests positive using the lateral flow device will be advised to book a more accurate PCR test to confirm the result.

Lateral flow kits have been compared to a "pregnancy test" for Covid, because they are cheap, much faster - providing results from throat or nasal swabs in 30 minutes - and do not require laboratory analysis.

They are considered more useful for asymptomatic surveillance because they detect cases based on higher viral loads, which means a person testing positive using a lateral flow device is much more likely to be at risk of spreading the infection.

In comparison, the PCR test can pick up viral fragments leftover in a person's system weeks after they have recovered and stopped being infectious, leading to people being asked to self-isolate when they no longer pose a danger.

For that reason, the PCR is recommended for testing people who are presenting with symptoms.

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The lateral flow test, however, has a higher rate of false negatives - that is, people who are infectious but are wrongly given the all-clear.

In a pilot study conducted in Liverpool, 60% per cent of infected asymptomatic people went undetected, including 33% of those with high viral loads. Study leaders said a negative test should not be seen as a "green light" that a person is safe.

Ms Sturgeon said lateral flow kits are "not a magic solution" but an "important and a key part of our fight against this virus" and "most effective when they work alongside other protective measures".