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Pharmacy teams unable to get COVID-19 tests despite priority status

Pharmacy workers are on the priority list for COVID-19 testing
Pharmacy workers are on the priority list for COVID-19 testing

Some community pharmacy workers are struggling to get a COVID-19 test, despite their “essential workers” status, C+D has learned from pharmacy bodies.

A Twitter poll of 79 respondents, posted earlier this month (September 15) by Royal Pharmaceutical Society director of England Ravi Sharma, found that 76% of pharmacy workers had experienced difficulties in accessing tests for COVID-19.

Other pharmacy bodies have reported similar problems. Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), confirmed that the organisation has received “many concerns about this issue”. It is something Ms Hannbeck has raised with NHS England and asked them to look into, she told C+D last week (September 25).

While there have been reports of shortages of COVID-19 tests for the general public, pharmacy team members are classed as “essential workers” who are prioritised for testing.

Ms Hannbeck said it is “concerning to hear that some [pharmacy professionals] are struggling to get tested”, and stressed that pharmacy is “on the front line and should be getting priority testing, just like our GP colleagues”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) told C+D last week (September 25) the DH would “like to “emphasise that pharmacy teams are included in the new priority list for accessing COVID-19 testing.”

A National Pharmacy Association spokesperson told C+D today (September 28) that the organisation is “monitoring the situation to see if this emerges as a widespread issue for our members”. “It’s important that pharmacy teams have access to testing, for their own safety and for the resilience of pharmacy services,” they added.

“We’ve had to pay privately”

One pharmacist based in the north of England, who wishes to remain anonymous, told C+D on Friday  (September 25) that their business  "had to pay privately” to get a colleague a COVID-19 test – which came back positive – despite them having a priority access code.

The pharmacy worker tried test sites within “a good 100-mile radius of where [the affected colleague] lives”, using the NHS essential worker status, but there were still no tests available. “We can't pay for private tests for everybody,” the pharmacist added.

To combat the difficulties getting a test , the pharmacist’s CCG has said it is “trying to set up a local solution”.

PSNC: Pharmacy teams can dispute test and trace

Earlier this month (September 18), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) published a reminder for contractors that if they “disagree with an assessment or an identification of a recent close contact by an NHS test and trace contact tracer, they should ask to speak to his or her supervisor, so that the case can be escalated and reviewed’.

PSNC “considers that any assessment of a close contact between pharmacy staff ought to take into account the use of personal protective equipment and other mitigating factors that may reduce the risk of infection transmission” to such a degree that the person identified as a contact does not have to self-isolate, the negotiator added.

Have you struggled to have a COVID-19 test?

Dispenser Dragon, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

I had no problem getting a test, but my results were lost so my husband and I ended up having to isolate anyway.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

The real question that needs to be asked is, is this the same across all healthcare professions, or limited to Pharmacy, or anyone not directly employed by the NHS?

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