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

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Their accessibility means pharmacies are the best place for antibody testing, Ms Hannbeck argues
Their accessibility means pharmacies are the best place for antibody testing, Ms Hannbeck argues

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”.

28 Comments
Question: 
Would you like to see a funded COVID-19 testing service in pharmacies?

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

As much as I don't agree that pharmacy teams should be pushed to the front for risk, I do think this is something we should be pursuing to have commissionned in pharmacies.

Community pharmacy is doomed and the coming austerity will finish us off but this service, I think, will be some recognition to the contribution pharmacy could have had to the NHS; see it as a swan song for the profession. But also, if remunerated fairly it would give some time for pharmacists to find alternative careers before they butcher the pharmacy contract even more.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

What is the danger money rate for pharmacists/locums ?

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I think clarification is called for. The broom cupboard consultation room is potentially occupied with a victim of domestic violence on the latest stunt to make community pharmacy 'valuable'. Without PROPER protection and funding, it is a non-starter. MUR targets will be reborn as pack-them-in COVID profits. Better not sit down with hot food on your break - you will get interrupted.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Hang on.......we get BREAKS????

V K P, Community pharmacist

they say funding. lol. as soon as there are a funds to provide to the pharmacy, the greedy GPs will throw their hat in to say that their nurses can provide tests in their practices. all of a sudden the shutters will go up and the surgeries will be open. How about being at the table and ring fencing the service to be delivered by only by pharmacy with container loads of funding for once. Whilst at NPA LH did not deliver any tangile resource hence what is different at AIM now??? a rocker on the back side to deliver one reckons.

David Jones, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

V K P or whoever you are, make your point without being unncessarily negative about individuals. You are just being negative about LH and you are wrong. She did an amazing job at the NPA and continues to be a huge credit to this profession. 

V K P, Community pharmacist

touched a raw nerve have we???? 

Sunil Patel, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

As a superintendent and pharmacy owner I know she went over and beyond at the NPA. She has now transformed AIMp putting it on the map doing great things for pharmacy. You don't see much beyond your little world do you? Stop personal attacks on people under an anonymous name. 

V K P, Community pharmacist

the little world that i see revolves around funding which your horse blinkers cannot see. I was merely highligthing a point with regards to tangile resources however truth is bitter mr Sunil Patel.

Sunil Patel, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

The article clearly highlights need for 'funding' but you choose not to see it. Seems you know not much about the truth and from your post the only one who is bitter is you. As others have said, you can make a point without personal attacks on someone. But then again perhaps your username stands for Vexing Know-nothing Passive-aggressive (VKP).

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

I prefer Vicious K**b-end Pi***ck without all the ****

 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

I have to agree with you. Leyla Hannbeck has always been very prominent in promoting pharmacy and has ALWAYS been on the side of the pharmacist. I met her once at a HLP leadership course and I was really surprised how down to earth she was and I think that's what she brings to the table - a pharmacists insight. Still not sure about this scheme on top of everything else we are expected to do though.......

Sunil Patel, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

The article highlights the need for PPE and the need for adequate funding in order to deliver this. 

Helen Whittaker, Community pharmacist

This idea is truely impractical. We are so desperate to get a seat at the table and prove what pharmacy can do that we will literally volunteer for anything. We don't have the capacity for this. I appreciate someone has to do this but not pharmacy; we are already short staffed, trying to do extra work due to GP surgeries closing their doors all whilst safely checking prescriptions and answering phone queries. 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

How much money to risk your life. I wonder what BAME locums/employers have to say about this all ?

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

It's a definite issue about BAME, which makes a very significant proportion of the pharmacist workforce yet seems to be disproportionately affected by Covid. I'm assuming that the insurers take this into account but what use is insurance if you die of the disease?

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

How can people DISAGREE with this post?? The only thing wrong with it that I can see is we don't volunteer for these things, we have them forced on us. Everything else is absolutely spot on.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

It'll be another cash cow for the multiples and another stick to beat their employees with. This is what those in positions of power never seem to appreciate. Once a price tag is attached to a service, it becomes a pressure on employee pharmacists and one day very soon, they are ALL going to collapse under that pressure.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Great - send potentially infected people into the pharmacy.  We have enough problems with social distancing as it is and as for the lack of PPE - need I say more?

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Every bugger that comes in is potentially infected! If I had my way, we'd have an antiseptic spray curtain on the doors, but remember this test is for people who think they have HAD it, not GOT it. I still don't think we should be doing it, funded or not, though.

A B, Community pharmacist

As far I understand you perform a finger prick and use a small pipette to suck up a small amount of blood. The sample is then sent off to a lab with special equipment to analyse (which is why it is much more reliable than the finger prick tests that various places are selling for a fortune).

So not a full on blood test but we would certainly need a plentiful supply of proper PPE, not just a disposable mask and plastic apron more suited for food preparation.

O J, Community pharmacist

AB, what makes you think you deserve more than just a blue mask and plastic apron?

Haven't you seen what PPE equipment the staff at the testing centres have available.

Do you think this tax burden profession really deserve proper PPE?

Get real. In the eyes of DH
"Community pharmacy = doormat "

A B, Community pharmacist

You are right, there is a disparity between what people want and what they get.

However, a couple of points to add. A lot of staff at test centres don't go anywhere near the public if the person is self-swabbing. They pass the kit through the window and then you drop the kit out of the window into a box when done. The centres where staff actually take the swabs have better PPE. Also, if this service was ever to take place in pharmacies, it couldn't be a "turn up when you like" service like how many places run their flu service. A pharmacy would have to provide it in a block so the pharmacist (or tech?) could wear the same good quality PPE (FFP3 mask etc.). There would be enough PPE if we only had to use 1-2 masks and gowns per day. The idea of changing PPE between every patient isn't feasible.

I know in reality this probably won't happen and if it is to be pharmacy service, the multiples will be in a better place to provide pharmacist cover for the dispensary whilst the testing is being done. 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

They are in a better place but you can be sure they won't because that will cost MONEY.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

The aprons are truly laughable aren't they? If I'm laying hands on anyone, I want nothing short of the full on beekeepers outfit and a washroom to disinfect myself afterwards (in other words, like they have in hospitals). I don't think pharmacy has the capability to take on a service like this because let's face it, EVERYONE is going to want one so it would be a full time job just doing the tests while the rest of the pharmacy is going to the dogs.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Hold on. I was watching the BBC News and it said -- this test is sort of a blood test as against the finger prick test. So are we supposed to take blood from a person with Social Distancing followed and then run the test ? How?

Could someone (may be the editor) get more information on how the test is actually performed before we jump on to get all excited for a new service?

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Excited when you have no idea how much you will be paid or any safety measures in place......

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

If it's a full-on phlebotomist type blood test then surely there's loads of training needed first which will render it pointless because how many of us have the time to take on extra training at the moment?

The consulting rooms are pretty much out of bounds now anyway because of social distancing, so you are dead right - how will it fit in with that? But then, of course, the DoH doesn't really care about us.

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