Covid: Three-quarters of London pharmacies out of lateral flow tests as PM urged to ‘get a grip’ on shortage

·4-min read
A Boots store in London on Wednesday afternoon  (PA)
A Boots store in London on Wednesday afternoon (PA)

Nearly three quarters of pharmacies in London currently have no lateral flow tests in store, according to a survey by the Standard.

Pharmacies in the capital have seen their stock plummet just days before New Year’s Eve - with the shortage likely to hit revellers attending nightclubs and other events.

The Standard spoke to 50 pharmacies across all of London boroughs on Wednesday afternoon, with just 12 saying they had tests in store at 4.30pm. Many warned they would likely run out imminently amid high demand.

There are around 1,863 community pharmacies in London, according to Statista. The Standard’s figure represents a sample size.

Boris Johnson has been told to “get a grip” on the shortage as it threatens to derail New Year’s Eve celebrations. Ministers have consistently urged Britons to take a test before socialising to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

Tests are also being used to replace self-isolation for contacts of confirmed Covid cases, while people returning to work following the Christmas break has also added to demand.

Pharmacists in London told the Standard that the shortage had prompted a “mad rush” to stores which have supplies.

“We’ve been trying to put in a request twice a day,” said Nikita, a pharmacist at Lewis Pharmacy in Ealing Broadway.

“Most pharmacies we’re all trying to rely on the same supplier - and there is only three suppliers.

“Many pharmacies don’t have an account with the other two suppliers and we’re all ordering from that one and clearly they’re not going through.

“As soon as people hear we’ve got them, there’s a mad rush. I literally had stock and when I went to lunch for twenty minutes, they were all gone.

“We only get them around three times a week, but they’re going every half hour.”

Another, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Standard: “There is really high demand, but we just aren’t getting enough from our suppliers.

“We’ve been ordering every day but it’s difficult to get more than one case a day.

“Many people – particularly our elderly customers – also don’t realise that they need a collection code in order to pick up a pack of tests from the store. Some of them aren’t great with technology and they get frustrated.”

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association Of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that demand for tests had soared since the recent changes to self-isolation rules.

“Every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy and asks for tests,” she said.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid set out the issues in a call with a Tory MP, acknowledging there is not a quick fix to a problem caused by global demand.

Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, said: “Saj was very honest with me, he said, ‘look, there isn’t a quick fix’.

“We are now facing the situation where No 10 is saying ‘go and get tested’ and the Department of Health is saying ‘we haven’t got the tests, we can’t do it’.”

Previously ministers and officials had insisted they had sufficient stocks but the problems were in delivering them to people’s homes or pharmacies.

Home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were also unavailable on Wednesday afternoon.

Elsewhere, the Government website showed no PCR tests were available for home delivery - even for essential workers - in England or Northern Ireland, with “very few” in Scotland, while Wales had availability only in some regions.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The failure to make enough tests available weeks after they became a requirement is a total shambles.

“They need to get a grip and provide enough tests so people can keep themselves and everyone else safe.”

A UK Health Security Agency spokesperson said almost eight million test kits would be made available to pharmacies by New Year’s Eve.

“We are delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across the country, with almost eight million test kits being made available to pharmacies between today and New Year’s Eve,” they said.

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