The government risks “wasting a huge amount of money on Covid-19 coronavirus testing” unless people get more help with self-isolation, a scientific adviser said.
The test and trace system has a two-year budget of £ 37 billion.
However, Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St. Andrews and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Conduct (Spi-B) advising ministers, said more financial and practical support was needed.
People in England can have two quick coronavirus tests a week starting Friday, which can give results in about half an hour.
The lateral flow kits are available free of charge from approved test centers, pharmacies and by post.
Health ministers have said the tests will help detect outbreaks as lockdown restrictions wear off and could help track the emergence of variants.
However, critics of the program say it is a waste of money.
Prof. Reicher told Sky News the main reason for offering two cross-flow tests per week to the public is to get them to self-isolate if they become infected.
“The problem is that right now we are focusing on this part of the system without thinking about the other parts,” he said.
“And the result is not only that people are not self-isolating. It also suggests that people who cannot afford to self-isolate are not being tested at all.”
“That was very clear last year when mass testing was carried out in Liverpool, where deprived parts of the city only reported half as many people for testing as more affluent places.”
Prof. Reicher said that it is impractical for some people to self-isolate or that they lose their wages and “the way out is simply to avoid a test”.
The solution is “something that has been proposed for months, probably since the pandemic started a year ago, that we need to give more support to self-isolation,” he added.
“Testing people without thinking about what you are going to do with these tests to make these things possible is an enormous waste of money.
“We’re spending £ 37 billion on testing. There is no public health or economic sense in wasting this money because it’s not about giving people the support they need to self-isolate.” . “
Earlier this week, Health Secretary Edward Argar told BBC Breakfast that he expected the lateral flow tests to be used by people returning to work in the coming weeks as the “economy re-opens”.
He said fewer than one in 1,000 cross-flow tests gave a false positive and refused to set an “arbitrary” date for the test to end.
Mr Argar said the tests would be paid for under NHS Test and Trace funding of £ 37 billion over two years, with 80% expected to be used for testing.