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AIMp calls for COVID-19 antibody testing to be done in pharmacies

COVID-19 antibody testing should be a funded service in community pharmacies, carried out by “trusted and accessible” pharmacy teams, AIMp chief executive Leyla Hannbeck has said.

  • Ms Hannbeck has contacted health secretary Matt Hancock to lobby for pharmacy’s inclusion in future services such as COVID-19 antibody testing and vaccination.    
  • Carying out antibody testing in pharmacies would “demonstrate to the public that we're here to deliver services and support public health”, Ms Hannbeck said. 
  • The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has said it is actively working on plans to roll out antibody testing.

The Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) is calling for antibody testing for COVID-19 to take place in pharmacies, as part of a “bigger plan” to integrate pharmacy more closely into the wider healthcare sector, Ms Hannbeck told C+D on Tuesday (May 12).

Factors such as the “accessibility of community pharmacy” means that “pharmacies are best placed to do this antibody testing,” she said.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, pharmacy teams have “demonstrated that they can be counted on” and have done “amazing jobs”, but the sector is still being “forgotten” and still “left out and at the bottom of the pecking order”, she added.

This is despite the fact that for many patients “pharmacy became the main gateway [to healthcare] during this period due to many [GP] surgeries being closed”, Ms Hannbeck said.

Pharmacies playing a key role in antibody testing could help address this as “the more people who can go to a pharmacy and get tested, the more pharmacists step up to these services,” the more the sector can “demonstrate” the value of its work, she said. 

“A safe and convenient location”

It was reported by The Telegraph yesterday (May 13) and subsequently by other media outlets, including the BBC, that an antibody test by Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche – a test that can show whether a patient has been infected with COVID-19 in the past – has been approved by Public Health England (PHE).

Professor John Newton, national coordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme, said today (May 14) that last week “scientific experts at PHE Porton Down carried out an independent evaluation of the new Roche SARS-CoV-2 serology assay in record time”. The researchers concluded that “it is a highly specific assay with specificity of 100%. This is a very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection”, Professor Newton added.

A DH spokesperson told C+D today that the DH is “delighted that devices are progressing through validation”. They added that they “are actively working on our plans for rolling out antibody testing and will make announcements in due course”.

Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) director of NHS Services Alastair Buxton told C+D today that the “PSNC remains in regular dialogue with NHS England and NHS Improvement [NHSE&I], who we expect will be involved in planning any wider roll-out of antibody testing”.

“Community pharmacies could offer a safe and convenient location for local communities and patients to access antibody tests from”, Mr Buxton said, adding that the PSNC would be “exploring that” in the weeks to come. The negotiating body will also “be continuing to press” NHSE&I and the government on “the need to fairly fund community pharmacies for [such] services”.

Funding and PPE crucial

Pharmacy teams would “need to be funded” for the time they put into antibody testing, but could help the government achieve its testing targets, Ms Hannbeck said. Providing antibody testing in pharmacies would “also “demonstrate to the public that we're here to deliver services and support public health”, she added.

Last week (May 6) she wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock on LinkedIn to argue for pharmacy’s inclusion in any antibody testing scheme that goes ahead.

Highlighting the importance of “access and convenience” to the success of any testing programme, Ms Hannbeck said the health secretary needed to “look no further than your network of high-street pharmacies”.

As, “trusted, convenient and accessible” professionals, community pharmacy teams are ideally placed to “rapidly deploy testing for antibodies, or a facilitated role going forward”, she wrote.

As long as there is “proper funding and support”, the antibody testing service would be a way for the sector to change the public perception of pharmacy teams as “just dispensing prescriptions”, Ms Hanneck told C+D.

“Going forward as a sector we can embrace opportunities and services such as antibody testing and COVID-19 vaccination service because we are accessible healthcare professionals and with the right funding and support we can go all the way,” she added.

Apart from adequate funding, AIMp is also calling for pharmacies to have “adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for participating in testing or immunisation activity”.

Would you like to see a funded COVID-19 testing service in pharmacies?

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