Pharmacies experiencing ‘patchy’ supplies of lateral flow tests as demand soars

A change in quarantine rules in England has led to a surge in demand for lateral flow testing kits.

Pharmacies have been left with “inconsistent” stocks of COVID-19 lateral flow tests (LFTs) as demand for testing kits has soared, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) has warned.

There were no deliveries of LFTs to pharmacies in England over the four-day Christmas break, despite pharmacies being open for some of the festive period, exacerbating shortages, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the AIMP, said on 29 December 2021 that the organisation’s members reported high demand for LFTs because of a change in rules on self-isolating, which were introduced in England on 23 December 2021.

The new rules mean that people who test positive for COVID-19 now only have to isolate for seven days, instead of ten days, if they have a negative LFT on day six and seven of their quarantine.

“Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy asking for a test,” Hannbeck said.

“But, unfortunately, because of the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means that those who come for the test don’t always get it, which is very stressful, not just for the pharmacy team but for the patient.

“The scale of the problem is huge because the demand is high, because of the current guidelines. Pharmacy is well-placed to distribute the LFTs as we are accessible to patients but we need the supply to be consistent to ensure the public can have access to the tests.”

In a statement issued on 29 December 2021, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the PSNC, said: “The wholesaler which supplies the LFT kits to pharmacies, on behalf of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), made its last deliveries on Friday afternoon [24 December 2021], following which all deliveries were paused until this morning, when they fully reopened, as all pharmacies also returned to their normal opening hours.

“Many pharmacies were open over the four-day Christmas break, but as deliveries of medicines and LFT kits would not be made during that period, it is likely that their supply of test kits will once again have been exhausted.”

Supply chain issues for LFTs were reported earlier in December 2021, but the UKHSA said community pharmacies were receiving “record numbers” of test kits during that period.

Pharmacies offering the ‘COVID-19 lateral flow device distribution service’ reported a surge in demand for LFT kits following prime minister Boris Johnson’s televised address on the threat of the Omicron variant on 12 December 2021.

The government announced on the same day that fully vaccinated contacts of people with a positive COVID-19 PCR test were required to take a LFT each day for seven days, in lieu of self-isolating.

The ‘COVID-19 lateral flow device distribution service’, also known as ‘Pharmacy Collect’, launched on 29 March 2021 as an advanced service.

Within its first two and half months, pharmacy contractors declared more than 4 million transactions through the Pharmacy Collect scheme to NHS Business Services Authority.

Alliance Healthcare, the wholesaler that distributes LFT kits to community pharmacies, said it could not comment on the current situation and directed enquiries to the UKHSA.

The UKHSA has been contacted for comment.

Read more: How reliable are lateral flow tests?

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2021, Vol 307, No 7956;307(7956)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.121837

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