Pharmacists warned the government about supply of lateral flow tests “weeks ago”, according to the CEO of the Association of Independent Pharmacies.
Leyla Hannbeck told HuffPost UK that pharmacies were now at the forefront of this particular crisis, as the store of self-test kits has run dry shortly before the biggest social night of the year – New Year’s Eve.
She explained: “When pharmacists order, it doesn’t arrive or just one box arrives.
Some days, they go completely without. It’s just not sufficient, it’s very sporadic.”
Hannbeck said, despite the government’s claims that distribution and supply chain was still functioning, “none of it is working well”.
Nearly three quarters of pharmacies in London ran out of LFTs on Wednesday, according to the Evening Standard.
“They should have put proper plans in,” Hannbeck continued.
“A lot of stress put on our routine to manage this. We’ve been put at the forefront of this without any support.
“We raised it, we raised a few weeks ago – we were seeing people come in through the doors and we were seeing issues with supply and that it wasn’t enough.
“The government needs to manage supply and demand. It cannot continue for weeks to come.”
The gov.uk website shows that it’s not possible to order LFTs online either.
She predicted it was not going to get any easier in the weeks to come either, due to both the Christmas period and the change in government guidelines.
Daily testing is now in place for anyone who has been in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid, while the self-isolation period for positive cases has been shorted to seven days as long as the individual tests negative – on lateral flow tests – twice in a row.
Everyone has been encouraged to test themselves before socialising, too.
“People want to be responsible and follow the government guidelines – but there are no tests available,” Hannbeck pointed out.
She said it was “logical” that the demand would go up because of the government’s guidelines, but nothing was happening “in terms of managing supply”.
“You can imagine a kit with seven tests in it for a family of five – it will go immediately.
“We can’t continue with it – something’s got to be done.”
Hannbeck also claimed that the shortages are only going to continue as the general population continues to use LFTs for before they go to work, for normal livelihoods, returning from holidays, going back to school.
Hannbeck did tweet the UK’s Health Security Agency shortly before Christmas, claiming: “Your poor handling of the supply of lateral flow tests to pharmacies and the bureaucratic process around it has created a lot of stress for pharmacy teams and for patients during the busy Christmas period. You need to urgently resolve this.”
Dear @UKHSA, your poor handling of the supply of lateral flow tests to pharmacies and the bureaucratic process around it has created a lot of stress for #pharmacy teams and for patients during the busy Christmas period. You need to urgently resolve this. @DHSCgovuk#LFT#Omicron
— Leyla Hannbeck (@LeylaHannbeck) December 22, 2021
She also raised the same issue on December 16, tweeting: “Why on earth are pharmacies only allowed restricted supply of lateral flow tests (one box per day) when there is huge public demand?
“How are we supposed to manage when we don’t get the supply to ensure public can access? The government needs to sort this out ASAP.”
Why on earth are pharmacies only allowed restricted supply of lateral flow tests (one box per day) when there is huge public demand?! How are we supposed to manage when we don’t get the supply to ensure public can access? The government needs to sort this out ASAP. #LFT#omicron
— Leyla Hannbeck (@LeylaHannbeck) December 16, 2021
Health secretary Sajid Javid has admitted that the supply of lateral flow test kits will be “constrained” in the next two weeks.
In a letter sent to MPs on Wednesday, he said: “In light of the huge demand for LFTs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system of certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout the day.”
He suggested MPs should encourage constituents towards their local pharmacists and then see if “their local authority is distributing tests” or find them at local community facilities.
Labour has accused the government of a “shambles”, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting calling for all NHS workers to get priority access to tests.
NEW - Labour's @wesstreeting has written to the health secretary calling on him to ensure NHS workers get priority access to covid tests.
"I urge you to put the key workers we have relied upon for the past two years to the front of the queue," he says.
— Heather Stewart (@GuardianHeather) December 30, 2021
It is important to note that the government has promised to deliver eight million tests before New Year’s Eve.
A spokesman from UKHSA said: ”The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe with almost 400 million tests carried out since the start of the pandemic.
“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.
“We have made 100,000 more PCR booking slots available per day since mid-December and we are continuing to rapidly expand capacity – with over half a million tests carried out on December 23 alone and delivery capacity doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD test kits a day.
“If you have not been able to get the test you need from gov.uk, please keep checking every few hours as more PCR and LFD tests become available every day.”
There has also been a worldwide shortage of LFTs and PCR tests in recent weeks.
The department for health and social care has been approached for comment.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.