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Priority access to COVID-19 antibody tests for English pharmacy teams

NHS staff in England, including community pharmacy teams, will be given priority access to COVID-19 antibody tests, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has said.

Thousands of antibody tests will be rolled out “in a phased way” this week as part of a new national antibody testing programme announced by the DH last week (May 21).

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the DH has signed contracts to “supply over 10 million tests from Roche and Abbott in the coming months”. These will be initially made available to NHS, care staff, eligible hospital patients and care home residents in England.

The DH confirmed to C+D last week (May 22) that pharmacy teams can be offered the test because they are NHS staff.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will decide who is eligible for the antibody tests in each respective country.

Blood test

NHS staff will be asked by their employers whether they want to have the test, the DH said. They will have their blood taken by trained staff in one of the existing phlebotomy services in England. More will be introduced “to ensure all staff can be tested”, the DH said.

The blood samples will be analysed by pathology labs in England and data on the results will be shared with Public Health England.

“The information will help clinicians and scientists to better understand the prevalence of the virus in different regions across the country,” the DH said.

The antibody tests reveal if someone has already had the virus, as opposed to swab tests, which test for whether a person currently has it. The DH said the antibody tests will “provide accurate data about the antibodies they have developed in response”.

Community pharmacy professionals in England who are self-isolating with symptoms of COVID-19 have been able to get swab tested thanks to increased testing capacity since April 17.

Testing in pharmacies?

The Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies is calling for antibody testing for COVID-19 in patients to take place in pharmacies, as they are easy to access by the community. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee also told C+D that community pharmacies “could offer a safe and convenient location for local communities and patients to access antibody tests from”.

Pharmacies can currently legally sell both swab tests and antibody tests to patients where the sample is sent off to a laboratory for analysis.

What do you make of the DH's announcement?

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