Pharmacy teams around the country have been stepping up their efforts to protect the nation from Covid-19 by helping to distribute millions of testing kits to the public.
The service which is known to the public as ‘Pharmacy Collect’ was commissioned to allow asymptomatic individuals to collect Covid-19 Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test kits from community pharmacies.
It’s all part of the government’s Covid-19 roadmap out of lockdown – allowing everyone to have easy access to free, regular, rapid coronavirus testing will help pave the way for businesses and society reopening. People can access these LFDs for themselves and their families to use twice a week, in line with clinical guidance.
So far, over 9 in 10 pharmacies according to government data, are distributing the test kits to the public. In a statement, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “delighted” that the service was rolled out to pharmacies.
“I have been delighted at the level of interest and how fast the response has been from pharmacies to take part," he said.
“This new service will make it even easier for people to access rapid testing twice a week. The testing only takes 30 minutes and will help people stop the spread of the virus – protecting families and communities and saving lives.”
Chris Bland, a pharmacist manager at Kamsons Pharmacy in Middleton, Leeds says it’s been “really easy to use”.
“The best thing is that this can be counter staff led, and if someone wants more covid information are referred to the pharmacists,” he explains.
“It’s like the morning after pill before you go on holiday just in case you need it. There's a lot of people who are picking this up now.”
For his pharmacy Chris would order one box from wholesaler Alliance every couple of days, which will contain 54 test kits.
He says: “It appears that we have a peak of people coming in when the covid clinics are on. The GP surgeries have been directing people to pharmacy as well.”
Before a member of the pharmacy team can hand over the test kits however, they need to ask three questions which include; ‘Have you collected LFD test kits before?’, ‘Why do you need tests?’ and ‘What is the age range of the person using the kit?’
Antania Tang, Advice and Support Pharmacist at the NPA says the aim of the Pharmacy Collect Service is to allow asymptomatic individuals to have improved access to regular rapid Covid-19 testing to help identify more people likely to spread the virus; therefore, breaking the chain of transmission.
“All pharmacy staff involved in the service will need to have read and understood the Standard Operating Procedure for the service,” explains Antania.
“They are required to ask three questions to people requesting the test kits before making a supply and log their responses for management and evaluation purposes. As long as the people requesting the test kits answer the three questions asked, they should be not be denied access to test kits. The questions are not used to check the eligibility of people requesting the kits.”
She added: “Pharmacy staff are also required to explain some key points of advice including the importance of reporting test results when supplying the test kits to a person collecting them for the first time; pharmacy teams should use their discretion on whether these key points should be provided on subsequent visits.”
"Pharmacies should not have a rule-ration mindset”
In Somerset, pharmacies have been distributing around 4000 tests kits each week.
Michael Lennox, Chief Executive of Somerset Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) and also NPA’s Local Integration Lead, believes it is important to ask members of the public the three mandatory questions but says pharmacies should not have a “rule-ration mindset” when delivering the Pharmacy Collect service.
“The Somerset health system is depending on our community pharmacy network to be a major channel of testing activity,” says Michael.
“Pharmacy teams should continue to act as positive encouragers of testing, thank customers for taking responsibility to get tested and make it easy for them to get the kits. We’re meant to get the product out there, not to guard it with our lives.
“We are in the business of supporting health and care, so let’s make all feel good about it and distribute as many as you can get under the SOP.”
Olivier Picard, NPA board member and owner of the Newdays Pharmacy group in Berkshire which also runs a Covid-19 vaccination centre, says his team have been “extremely successful” in distributing them to patients after they get their jab.
“We have been putting them on display for people who come for their vaccinations and on busy days we could give 250 packs out,” he says.
“It's because they’re not our regular customers, it's anyone and everyone that book in and comes for the vaccination.”
Training was given to his team before they gave out the tests kits, but soon after Olivier found that they had to tweak the way they asked the mandatory questions.
“We done some training with the pharmacy staff when we launched the service because we don't want the pharmacist to be involved with everything,” says Olivier.
“Initially some of the staff were asking patients 'Why do you want the kit?' and I think some people perhaps misunderstood the purpose of the question. Patients are bit taken back when the questions are asked incorrectly or maybe a bit abruptly, but once asked differently they understand. So we changed it slightly to say 'we're collating information about the reason as to why patients take them. Do you have children that go to school? have you been asked to test before you go to work?' By asking a couple of questions like this, people are more willing to reveal the reasons why they're taking the test.”
Olivier believes there’s more work to be done in raising awareness for getting communities tested for the virus.
“A lot of people think they don't need to test because they've been vaccinated,” says Olivier.
What we've been telling people is that even when you’re vaccinated you can still be a carrier of the virus. What you don't want to do is distribute or spread the virus throughout your community.”
Chris who is also Chair of Rotherham LPC and a member of Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire Committee, believes pharmacies should be reinforcing the testing messages to patients.
“The only gatekeeping we do is we print off the sheet to tell them how to use it, how to report it and report back on the government website,” he says.
“It’s not like medicines side of it where we double checking everything. If anything, we shouldn't be cautious on this one because it is about spotting asymptomatic people to stop them from passing Covid-19 on.”
Some stats behind the Pharmacy Collect service:
- Over 90% of community pharmacies in England now offering the free, rapid tests for home use.
- New analysis by NHS Test and Trace shows lateral flow (LFD) tests to have a specificity of at least 99.9%. This means that for every 1,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there is fewer than one false positive result.
- Each box contains seven LFDs. This allows the person to test themselves twice weekly within a 3-week timeframe. This number of tests in the box factors in the potential for a void test.
- If testing at home, individuals will need to register their results online or by calling 119, even if they get a negative result. They should self-isolate if they get a positive result and order a confirmatory PCR test online or by calling 119.