Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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Pharmacies in eight parts of England are offering rapid COVID-19 antigen tests to potentially asymptomatic patients as part of a public health campaign.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) told The Pharmaceutical Journal that community pharmacies in Surrey, Dudley, Merton, Kingston and Richmond have been commissioned by their local public health teams to provide lateral flow tests, with “a number of other” areas also looking at commissioning pharmacies to provide these tests.
The tests, which detect COVID-19 antigens in a throat or nasal swab sample, return results within 30 minutes.
The pharmacy provider company for contractors in Dudley — Central Health Solutions — is also helping to provide the service in four other areas: Birmingham, Worcestershire, Telford and Wrekin, and Stoke-on-Trent.
According to the Central Health Solutions website, listed pharmacies in Herefordshire and Shropshire also “plan to take part in the service in the near future”.
Central Health Solutions works on behalf of pharmacy contractors in a local area, entering into contracts with commissioners and then sub-contracting to local pharmacists.
Michelle Dyoss, director of Central Health Solutions, said it had helped launch the service “in Dudley, Birmingham, Worcestershire, Telford and Wrekin, Stoke-on-Trent, Herefordshire and Shropshire and are also in talks with Warwickshire and Gloucestershire – all through Central Health Solutions being commissioned by each council”.
Stephen Nobel, chief executive officer of Dudley Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC), told The Pharmaceutical Journal that participating pharmacies “get a £250 setup fee plus £10 per test”.
He added that between the service’s start date on 14 December 2020 and 21 February 2021, 32 pharmacies have provided 14,748 tests.
In November 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) launched a community testing programme, sending out 600,000 lateral flow test kits to directors of public health in 67 local authority areas of England.
This was followed up by a weekly allocation of testing kits equivalent to 10% of their local population.
The community testing programme has since been expanded to all local authority areas across England, with public health directors able to determine how potentially asymptomatic patients are tested.
According to government guidance, lateral flow test providers can be paid up to £14 per test.
Michael Keen, chief officer of Kingston, Richmond and Twickenham LPC, said that his pharmacies are receiving £14 per test, with the uptake so far “variable between participating pharmacies, with one pharmacy doing 50 tests per week, and the others varying between 20 and lower numbers per week”.
“I expect this to build as it is still early days — we are advertising the service — and as the population gets used to COVID-19 being endemic in the population, and vaccination and testing being with us for a long time to come,” he said.
Keen added that the service is the result of close relationships with their local directors of public health.
“It is important to community pharmacy because it addresses a public need, helps to build on the trust members of the public have in us to tackle COVID-19-related health matters, and helps people manage a pandemic that has them very worried,” he said.
Amit Patel, chief officer of Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth LPC, said the service “has been a huge support to key workers across Merton, where we have a number of pharmacies delivering up to 150 tests each per week, enabling them to go to work and support the community”.
“Our public health team have been hugely supportive and have worked hard with the LPC to ensure that we maximise on this opportunity,” he said.
“The service was up and running within a week, and includes an enhanced service where the pharmacy team can take the opportunity to give additional advice on issues such as ‘hands, face, space’, [and] smoking and obesity, which are proven to exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms.”
The service follows a change in guidance from Public Health England, which had initially banned community pharmacies from providing rapid, point-of-care tests for COVID-19.