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

DH: Blood samples will be analysed by pathology labs in England and results shared with PHE
DH: Blood samples will be analysed by pathology labs in England and results shared with PHE

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?

Robert Mitchell, Community pharmacist


Two questions immediately spring to mind as a locum.

Firstly, if our employer is going to ask us if we want the test, how do those who are self employed do it? Can we?

Secondly, if the tests are to be carried out in pharmacies am I right in assuming this may involve additional training? Are the locums expected to cover the cost for this themselves so to be able to provide the service whilst still getting appallingly low rates?

Getting Shorter, Community pharmacist

I do wonder if suggestions like "do the blood tests in community pharmacies" ever come from anyone who actually works there.

Under the current circumstances (and for the foreseable), we'll have to get into full PPE to do each test... then strip it off again to check a few scripts, then back in to all the gear for the next in the testing queue... Delivering flu jabs is going to raise similar problems this year, no matter how "vital" it is already being deemed. I really don't think it's practically achievable for most pharmacies at the moment.

However, if the NHS would like to hire our consultation room for a nurse to work out of for days at a time, that might be a better use than it's currently getting!

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Completely agree in some ways here. It's totally impractical in the current community pharmacy set up. But aside from Covid, where are we going in all this? Remuneration and wages are going down, it's only going to get worse with austerity. There's not a chance the DofH are going to increase funding for dispensing services. The problem with providing services overall is that it doesn't justify x2 pharmacist wages at one time and reliquishing dispensing responsibilities to pharmacy techs jeapodises the pharmacist role if the services remuneration doesn't cover the pharmacist wages.  

Providing this antibody service in some way gives a glimmer of hope for the survival of community pharmacy and thrust us into the spotlight as NHS heroes in the community. Pharmacist almost need to take a chance and go for a service driven role to prove their worth and, I believe, this antibody test is the best chance rather than some crappy MUR/NMS type of service.

To hire out consultation rooms to nurses would be the nurses are providing the service and get the credits/funding but the pharmacy staff have increased risk of virus exposure.


Getting Shorter, Community pharmacist

"Pharmacist almost need to take a chance and go for a service driven role to prove their worth "

Sadly, the same song I've been hearing for 20-odd years; we've taken service role after service role, pilot after pilot, with no real progress in recognition.

Dispensing is our core role and the quality of knowledge and work that goes into it is unrecognised mainly ~because~ we do it so smoothly and so well.

A cheaper service can be provided as we squeeze pharmacists out of the process (while leaving them liable for any problems)...  but it won't be as safe.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

'The DH confirmed to C+D last week (May 22) that pharmacy teams can be offered the test because they are NHS staff.' - Really?? It doesn't feel like we are treated as NHS staff in any other way.

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