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Guiding organisational decision-making about COVID-19 asymptomatic testing in workplaces: mixed-method study to inform an ethical framework

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van der Scheer, Jan W 
Ansari, Akbar 
McLaughlin, Meredith 
Cox, Caitríona 
Liddell, Kathleen 


jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:sec jats:titleBackground</jats:title> jats:pWorkplace programmes to test staff for asymptomatic COVID-19 infection have become common, but raise a number of ethical challenges. In this article, we report the findings of a consultation that informed the development of an ethical framework for organisational decision-making about such programmes.</jats:p> </jats:sec>jats:sec jats:titleMethods</jats:title> jats:pWe conducted a mixed-method consultation – a survey and semi-structured interviews during November–December 2020 in a UK case study organisation that had introduced asymptomatic testing for all staff working on-site in its buildings. Analysis of closed-ended survey data was conducted descriptively. An analysis approach based on the Framework Method was used for the open-ended survey responses and interview data. The analyses were then integrated to facilitate systematic analysis across themes. Inferences were based on the integrated findings and combined with other inputs (literature review, ethical analysis, legal and public health guidance, expert discussions) to develop an ethical framework.</jats:p> </jats:sec>jats:sec jats:titleResults</jats:title> jats:pThe consultation involved 61 staff members from the case study organisation (50 survey respondents and 11 interview participants). There was strong support for the asymptomatic testing programme: 90% of the survey respondents viewed it as helpful or very helpful. Open-ended survey responses and interviews gave insight into participants’ concerns, including those relating to goal drift, risk of false negatives, and potential negative impacts for household members and people whose roles lacked contractual and financial stability. Integration of the consultation findings and the other inputs identified the importance of a whole-system approach with appropriate support for the key control measure of isolation following positive tests. The need to build trust in the testing programme, for example through effective communication from leaders, was also emphasised.</jats:p> </jats:sec>jats:sec jats:titleConclusions</jats:title> jats:pThe consultation, together with other inputs, informed an ethical framework intended to support employers. The framework may support organisational decision-making in areas ranging from design and operation of the programme through to choices about participation. The framework is likely to benefit from further consultation and refinement in new settings.</jats:p> </jats:sec>


Funder: Wellcome Trust; doi:

Funder: NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow


Research, COVID-19, Bioethics, Workplaces, Testing, Qualitative, Survey, Mixed-method

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BMC Public Health

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
The Health Foundation (RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620, RG88620)
NIHR Senior Investigator Award (NF-SI-0617-10026)