Alliance Healthcare is currently the sole supplier of lateral flow devices to pharmacies in England – except for Rowlands pharmacies, which can access the test kits from Phoenix Healthcare Distribution – as part of the Pharmacy Collect service.
The two were awarded short-term contracts by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH), due to an urgent need for lateral flow test mass distribution, the DH told C+D last week (April 23).
However, Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA), told C+D that “more [wholesalers] are expected imminently”, as a framework agreement was launched last Wednesday (April 21) with the DH encouraging more wholesalers and distributors to supply the rapid COVID-19 test kits.
That same day, the DH released a contract notice for a “dynamic purchasing system (DPS) for COVID tests logistics services to pharmacies” worth a total of £3,328,000 (exc. VAT). This DPS will run for an initial period of 12 months, the DH said, with the option to extend.
It is understood that there is not a pre-defined number of suppliers that will be awarded contracts, and that public demand for testing will dictate whether future contracts can be fulfilled by a single wholesaler or several.
A levelling-off of orders would need to be seen before the government could devise a final procurement approach.
“Testing for Coronavirus is a crucial part of the government’s response to the pandemic,” the DH said in the contract notice. “The national COVID-19 testing strategy has pivoted toward mass population testing. To achieve this ambition, a concerted effort to mobilise a range of viable testing solutions is needed.”
The government’s test-and-trace programme required “logistics capabilities” to support the “ambition to scale-up and increase the volume of testing available across all pharmacies in England”.
The Pharmacy Collect service – which launched on March 29 – allows asymptomatic patients to collect lateral flow test kits free of charge from their local pharmacy.
Last week, health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that “over nine in 10 pharmacies” were distributing the rapid COVID-19 test kits across England as part of the service.
Alliance currently “able to meet demand”
An Alliance Healthcare spokesperson declined to say how many test kits it had distributed to pharmacies so far, but said that it is “currently in stock at all of our nationwide service centres and [we] are maintaining good levels of stock availability, with daily replenishment deliveries inbound”.
“Despite the high level of interest, we have been able to meet demand, with most pharmacies receiving their orders within one or two days,” the spokesperson added.
However, due to the “large size” of the delivery and storage capability required to distribute the lateral flow test kits, “it is only possible to deliver once per day, per location”, they added.