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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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Community pharmacies in England could earn up to £972 per week by distributing COVID-19 antigen tests through a new advanced service.
Pharmacies providing the service will distribute lateral flow device (LFD) test kits to asymptomatic patients as part of NHS Test and Trace.
Patients can collect one box of seven test kits free of charge, enabling them to test themselves twice per week over three weeks, with one to spare in case of a void test.
In a statement on 29 March 2021, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said patients could use the service to undertake regular tests if “they are a child at school or are in a bubble with children, they work at a school… [or] they have to leave the house for work”.
However, it added that “public promotion of the service will not commence until after Easter”.
The tests will be self-administered away from the pharmacy, with pharmacy staff “not involved in the generation of test results, supporting the reporting of results or the next steps for the person taking the test”, the statement said.
Pharmacies will earn £1.50 plus VAT per box of seven test kits distributed, in addition to a one-off set-up fee of £250 and an early sign-up fee of £200 if pharmacies opt in to provide the service by 18 April 2021.
According to the service specification, pharmacies can order up to 648 boxes per week, although this is “subject to review”.
Kits will be supplied free of charge to pharmacies and can be ordered from Alliance Healthcare. Rowlands pharmacies can place orders with Phoenix Healthcare Distribution.
Commenting on the new service, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at PSNC, said the service “is designed to be easy for contractors to implement and provide, with the day-to-day transactions being managed by the pharmacy’s counter team”.
“PSNC and the government hope that the majority of pharmacies in England will eventually sign up to provide the service, ensuring easy access to LFD test kits for the population.”
“PSNC wanted contractors to have better advance notice of the service, but that has not been possible for government to achieve,” he said, adding that pharmacy contractors can provide the service “once they have had time to undertake the necessary preparations”.
The service will be reviewed at the end of June 2021 to “allow the specification to be updated in light of possible insight from user engagement with this testing route”, the service specification said.
COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies
The new COVID-19 testing service comes after months of confusion around whether pharmacies should be allowed to provide rapid tests for the virus.
Public Health England (PHE) had initially said in May 2020 that rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests, such as lateral flow antigen tests, should not be used in community pharmacy, owing to a lack of information on their accuracy. The guidance was later overturned in February 2021 for patients with symptoms, following a review of evidence.
But despite the guidance at the time, in October 2020, Boots published plans to roll out a rapid point-of-care antigen test for asymptomatic COVID-19 patients — an announcement that the General Pharmaceutical Council said it would “follow up”.
NHS England later announced in November 2020 that it would be piloting the supply of COVID-19 PCR antigen tests to patients in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
Elsewhere, at the end of 2020, pharmacies in Dudley began providing lateral flow tests to patients, receiving £10 per test. The scheme, provided with the help of Central Health Solutions, was also launched in Birmingham, Worcestershire, Telford and Wrekin, Stoke-on-Trent, Herefordshire and Shropshire.