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Gove: Lateral flow tests to remain free for ‘as long as we need them’

The government will do “whatever it takes” to ensure free lateral flow tests remain in place for “as long as we need them”, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Michael Gove, has said. 

The Sunday Times reported yesterday (January 9) that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce plans to scrap free lateral flow tests “within weeks".

Under the new proposals, free lateral flow tests will be limited to high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, according to the report.

However, Mr Gove told Sky News today (January 10) that the tests will remain free for “as long as we need them”.

These tests are “a vital tool in making sure that we can curb the spread of the infection and also that people who need to isolate do so”, he said.

While pressure on the NHS and “vital public services” is lessening and we are learning to live with COVID-19, “it is absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet”, Mr Gove added.

When asked to clarify if it was correct that lateral flow tests would not be phased out in “the coming weeks” but that this could not be ruled out in the future, Mr Gove responded: “As the Prime Minister and others have said, we will do whatever it takes.”

Last month, vaccines minister Maggie Throup confirmed that, “at a later stage”, the “free universal provision of [lateral flow device] tests will end”.


“Everyone can continue to get free tests”


A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told C+D that people can “can continue to get free tests” and are being encouraged to use them.

“Record numbers of tests are being delivered to pharmacies, homes and those who need them,” the spokesperson added.

The UK’s testing programme has delivered more than 400 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and lateral flow device test kits since the beginning of the pandemic, they added, making the scheme "the biggest in Europe”.


Alliance: “No specific pharmacy has priority over another”


Pharmacies have reported struggling to get hold of adequate stock to meet demand, and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee told C+D last week that the delivery of lateral flow tests to wholesalers “is still falling short of demand”.

A spokesperson for Alliance Healthcare, the sole distributor of COVID-19 lateral flow tests, reassured C+D last week (January 7) that “drivers work hard each and every day to provide the best service possible to our customers”.

Deliveries of lateral flow tests are “managed by order release” to ensure “equitable distribution across pharmacies”, and “no specific pharmacy has priority over another”, the spokesperson said.

 “It is always company policy for drivers to direct queries to our customer service team to ensure they are able to complete their routes in an efficient manner. Alliance Healthcare has not asked drivers to sign an non-disclosure agreement relating to lateral flow test supply and deliveries,” they concluded.


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