COVID-19 lateral flow tests are to be supplied free of charge by community pharmacies as part of an advanced service for eligible patients.
Pharmacies that sign up to offer the service will be paid £4 plus VAT for each box of five lateral flow device test kits that they provide.
The walk-in service will operate from 6 November 2023 for patients aged over 12 years who are at risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Eligibility criteria are available from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and include patients with a disease that can affect the immune system.
Pharmacists must confirm a patient’s eligibility for the tests by seeing their NHS letter; having a discussion with the patient or their representative about the patient’s medical history; or referring to the pharmacy’s clinical records if the pharmacy has previously seen and made a record of having seen a copy of the patient’s NHS letter.
The new pharmacy advanced service will replace the current service, under which eligible patients can source lateral flow tests by calling NHS 119 or via the government’s website.
A service specification, published by NHS Business Services Authority, estimated that around 3.9 million patients would be eligible for free lateral flow tests.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, community pharmacies provided lateral flow tests to patients under the ‘Community pharmacy COVID-19 lateral flow device distribution service’, commonly known as Pharmacy Collect.
Pharmacy contractors claimed for almost 17 million transactions in the first 7 months of the scheme between April and November 2021.
Commenting on the announcement, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England, said: “This is not going to be a high-volume service, but community pharmacy teams are well placed to provide lateral flow device (LFD) test kits to eligible patients, with them having made over 25.5 million supplies of COVID-19 LFD test kits in 2021/2022.
“The service is similar to the previous LFD Pharmacy Collect service, so with the resources we will provide for pharmacy owners, we expect it will be straightforward for pharmacy teams to get up and running with the service if the pharmacy owner chooses to provide it.
“At a time when we are seeing COVID-19 cases start to increase, this service — along with the COVID-19 vaccination service — demonstrates yet again what a key part of the NHS community pharmacies are.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Community pharmacies continue to play an important role in the fight against COVID-19 — placed in the heart of local communities, this new service will ensure LFD tests continue to be available and easily accessible to people who are potentially eligible for COVID-19 treatments.”