The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) says it has received reports of pharmacy staff being “abused by people who have been sent to them for tests, but then are unable to get them”
A national shortage of lateral flow tests has left pharmacists facing abuse from frustrated customers as demand increases, it is claimed.
People across the UK have reported being unable to get hold of the tests from pharmacies, despite them being central to the government’s Covid measures.
For the fourth day in a row, those trying to get hold of lateral flow tests through the gov.uk website have been unable to do so.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), told the i that staff have been left “powerless”.
The PSNC said it had received reports of pharmacy staff being “abused by people who have been sent to them for tests, but then are unable to get them”.
Since Tuesday, new rules state that fully vaccinated people identified as a contact of a positive Covid case can swerve 10 days of isolation if they do a lateral flow test for seven days.
Many pharmacies are also helping with the booster vaccination programme, supplying staff and space in the huge drive to offer jabs to all adults by the end of 2021.
As a result businesses have come under unprecedented pressure.
The PSNC said it had asked the government for additional stock, but was told this was “apparently not possible”, with pharmacies only allowed to order one carton of tests per day.
Mr Buxton said: “Most pharmacies are getting daily deliveries of tests, but given the soaring demand for tests, this is running out very quickly.
“Due to a daily cap imposed by Test and Trace, pharmacies are powerless to order more tests than they already do, so we would ask for patience with pharmacy teams if they have run out – they are all trying to get more stock in as quickly as possible.”
Downing Street today said the capacity for posting out lateral flow tests was increasing.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said 649,000 orders for tests were received on Wednesday.
But frustrated members of the public have taken to social media to vent their fury after being unable to get hold of swabs.
One mum wrote: “For 4 days now I’ve not been able to order lateral flow tests online and my 7 nearest pharmacies all out of stock. With 3 kids in school/college and being immunosuppressed I find it quite troubling, where’s the protection?”
As news of a record number of Covid cases broke, Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of the Independent Sage committee, posted on Twitter: “A frightening 88,376 cases recorded today – breaking yesterday’s record. Worse this is likely to be an underestimate as it doesn’t include reinfections AND lateral flow tests have run out at most pharmacies. Take care people – especially if you want Christmas with family/friends.”
Earlier this week Health Secretary Sajid Javid was challenged over the scarcity of lateral flow tests, with the Tory cabinet member blaming distribution problems.
Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Pharmacists across the country are out of stock and even here in Parliament there are no home testing kits available from Portcullis house.
“No doubt this is due to a surge in demand ahead of the new testing requirement this week but surely that should have been foreseen and this is a serious problem.”
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In response Mr Javid claimed there was “no actual shortage” of lateral flow tests, stating: “The limiting factor – because of the hugely increased demand and I’m sure members can understand why demand has suddenly surged – is the ability to deliver the tests, and having enough capability to deliver the tests.
“The current arrangements with Royal Mail alone are not enough. There are new arrangements that have been reached with Amazon and other delivery methods [are being investigated].”
A spokesman for the UK Health Security Agency said: “We are working with pharmacies to respond to this unprecedented demand for lateral flow tests.
“We have processes in place to increase orders as requested by individual pharmacies and there is no shortage of lateral flow tests.”
The agency said in a statement: “By Saturday 18 December, 900,000 deliveries a day will be made to ensure that even more people can order either a PCR or LFD test directly to their home.
“As well as the rapid expansion in delivery capacity to people’s homes, UKHSA is also increasing test availability at pharmacies, PCR testing sites and local authorities.
“More lateral flow tests will be available across the UK in local community pharmacies to collect. Pharmacies are now able to access 10.5 million lateral flow tests per week, an increase of 5.5 million tests per week.”