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Community pharmacists to be given access to COVID-19 tests

Michael Gove: The free antigen tests will help NHS staff return to work if their test is negative
Michael Gove: The free antigen tests will help NHS staff return to work if their test is negative

Pharmacy teams in England will be tested for COVID-19 for free if they are showing symptoms, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has announced.

Frontline NHS staff across the UK will be the first wave to be tested for COVID-19 under a new testing programme, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) announced last week (March 27).

NHS staff are being offered free antigen tests, which determines “whether people currently have the disease”, thus helping healthcare workers to return to work if their test is negative, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said last week.

The programme is available to professionals working in community pharmacy in England, the government confirmed to PSNC. More details will be made available “when they are provided” to the negotiator, it said in an update yesterday (March 29).

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had already prioritised testing for healthcare workers, including pharmacy teams, before Mr Gove’s announcement last week.

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething also announced the launch of an antibody blood test last week (March 28) for NHS frontline staff, including pharmacy workers, that will test if people had had the virus and “potentially” developed immunity.

Partnership with Boots

The government’s new coronavirus testing programme is the result of a partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific, Amazon, Boots, Royal Mail, Randox, the Wellcome Trust and top UK universities, the DH said.

Boots is supporting the government by setting up drive-through testing stations, which will be “spread across the UK” but will not be in its branches, the multiple's UK managing director Sebastian James said.

The tests will not be sold over the counter and will not be available “for purchase online from any retailers”, the DH stressed.

Testing will initially only be for NHS workers “who are isolating themselves [because they are] unsure if they have COVID-19 or not”, Boots director Richard Bradley said in a video on the company’s website.

NHS staff will be invited by their employers to have the test, Mr Bradley added.

Trials for the tests began last week at Boots’ site in Nottingham and were conducted by volunteers from the business.

NHS tests

Three new hub laboratories are being set up to analyse the antigen tests, the DH said last week.

The first of these hubs was due to become operational over the past weekend, whereas the other two will be “opening soon”, it said. C+D has contacted the DH to clarify whether the first hub had opened as expected.

“The samples will be taken at special sites set up around the country, initially in coronavirus hotspots such as London,” the DH added.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said the government hopes “that soon these hub laboratories will be operating round the clock, allowing us to significantly scale up our testing.”

Confusion over availability

Last week, PHE’s Professor Sharon Peacock said that around 3.5 million COVID-19 antibody test kits had been ordered and would be available for the public to buy from pharmacies within a matter of days.

However, chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty later clarified that the test will not be “suddenly available” to purchase from this week as they need to go through an evaluation process before they are made available to NHS staff first and to the wider public at a later stage.

What do you make of the Government's announcement?

Richard Judge, Manager

I think it's wrong to make these available "for sale" to the general public. Some people may buy the test and get a negative result and think that that makes them immune so they wont follow the distancing regulations.

Amit Shah, Community pharmacist

So if you are asymtomatic from having Covid-19 and now immune and able to work you should't have the test?

Surely all members of the Pharmacy team countywide should be tested.

Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

If you are asymptomatic......when would you suggest having this test? Everyday?

An antibody test I agree would be needed by the whole pharmacy team and when there is one available I’m sure everybody will be offered one!


N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

"""More details will be made available “when they are provided” to the negotiator"""

This is the sentence we have been hearing over the past decade and SPECIALLY over the past 3 weeks, with respect to some of the urgently needed funding decisions like Pharmacy Deliveries, Emergency COVID funding etc.

When will we ever hear something positive? May be when we all test Positive for COVID19?

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