‘Record numbers’ of lateral flow tests sent to pharmacies amid supply issues

The enormous demand for lateral flow tests followed announcements on 13 December 2021, ruling that contacts of people with a positive COVID-19 PCR test should take a lateral flow test each day for one week.
Pile of lateral flow tests

Community pharmacies in England received “record numbers” of lateral flow test (LFT) kits during the week of 13 December 2021, despite supply chain issues, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

Contractors offering the ‘COVID-19 lateral flow device distribution service’ reported a surge in demand for LFT kits following the prime minister’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 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test were required to take a LFT each day for seven days, in lieu of self-isolating.

Then, on 14 December 2021, pharmacy leaders said that they had heard from “numerous contractors” that pharmacy supplies of LFT kits were unable to keep up with public demand.

However, a spokesperson for the UKHSA told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 20 December 2021 that “over 11 million test kits [were] sent to pharmacies across the UK” in the week beginning 13 December 2021 adding that the supply chain issue pharmacies faced “is being resolved and normal service will resume shortly”.

“There is no shortage of free rapid tests and there are a range of ways that people can get them to help combat the spread of COVID-19,” the spokesperson said.

A statement on the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) website published on 17 December 2021 clarified that the 11 million test kits sent to pharmacies had “doubled” from the previous week.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at PSNC, said on 20 December 2021 that the PSNC had been told by UKHSA “that more LFTs arrived with Alliance [England’s only supplier of LFTs to community pharmacies] over the weekend, with more on the way today, and so these should start to arrive in pharmacies today [on 20 December 2021]’.

“This should start to ease supplies … but of course, availability will also depend on whether patient demand for tests continues at inflated rates.”

On 19 December 2021, a service update from Alliance Healthcare said the “unprecedented demand for lateral flow test kits from people testing due to the Omicron variant, combined with precautionary testing before the Christmas period, continues”.

The ‘COVID-19 lateral flow device distribution service’, also known as ‘Pharmacy Collect’, launched on 29 March 2021 as an advanced service, with LFTs initially distributed by three companies: Phoenix Healthcare Distribution; Sigma Pharmaceuticals; and Alliance Healthcare.

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

Read more: How reliable are lateral flow COVID-19 tests?

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2021, Vol 307, No 7956;307(7956)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.121205

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