A lack of lateral flow tests (LFTs) in UK pharmacies is a “huge” problem as people have been requesting them every five minutes over the Christmas period, providers have warned.
Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said a lack of LFT kits over Christmas and new year had put those “doing the responsible thing” in an impossible situation.
“What our members are telling us is that demand for the lateral flow tests is very high at the moment due to the current guidelines around self-isolation. Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy asking for a test,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But, unfortunately, because of the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means that those who come for the test don’t always get it, which is very stressful; not just for the pharmacy team, but for the patient.
“The scale of the problem is huge because the demand is high, because of the current guidelines.
“People are doing the responsible thing by wanting to be tested. And we are in the Christmas area of time and the new year is just around the corner and people want to be with family and friends.”
Current rules in England allow anyone who has tested positive to cut their self-isolation from 10 days to seven if they have negative LFTs on days six and seven. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the self-isolation period for those who test positive remains 10 days.
The UK Health Security Agency has said nearly 900,000 test kits are being provided each day, double the supply before 18 December.
The government’s policy has driven demand for LFTs in England, adding to the seasonal demand throughout the UK among those wanting to see family and friends over Christmas, and the underlying testing requirements.
Hannbeck, whose organisation represents 2,000 pharmacies around the UK, told Today: “It just simply isn’t enough to meet the demand and it’s patchy. Some days you get one box delivered and other days none. It isn’t enough for the pharmacies to deliver to the patients.
“We want to make sure that the message is clear to the government that the supply needs to be consistent.”
It comes after government websites reported in the weeks before Christmas that LFTs were “not available right now”, and many people trying to book walk-in PCR tests were being directed to sites several miles away or told none were available.