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Fit to Fly service: ‘We’re now doing up to 10 Covid-19 PCR tests a week’

By Saša Janković

30 Nov 2020

Customer demand led Sutton Pharmacy to start a ‘Fit to Fly’ Covid-19 PCR testing service. Superintendent pharmacist and owner Sanjay Patel tells Saša Janković how it has taken off.

Service type: Fit to Fly Covid-19 PCR testing service.

Name and location of pharmacy: Sutton Pharmacy, Sutton.

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Sanjay Patel.

Why did you start offering this service?

I started offering this service towards the end of September (2020). Many airlines and countries are now asking travellers for a Fit to Fly certificate to prove that they have had a negative Covid-19 PCR test result in the last 72 hours. As you might expect, we’d had a few people enquire about this so I looked into and decided that because it was quite expensive we wouldn’t get the footfall to make it worth trying out.

However, when one of my regulars said he needed it doing and he’d have to go into London and pay £300 if I wasn’t going to do it, I changed my mind. I read up on it, worked out what I needed to do, what precautions I’d need to take for me and my team, and decided to go for it – and it is going well for us so far.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

The first thing we need to know is when the customer is flying, so we can work out if they are likely to get the results back in time. Every country has different Fit to Fly rules, and I make it clear to the customer that it’s their responsibility to know what their destination requires, because once the sample has left our pharmacy the rest is out of our control.

If they are happy with that, we’ll go into the consulting room so I can take their details, and I insist they bring their passport with them so I can copy their name correctly. We use the Randox Health PCR testing kit to swab their nose and throat, put the sample into its container and send it off via Royal Mail special delivery so it arrives at the lab the following morning. Analysis takes 24 hours and the lab normally get us the certificate either that evening or the next morning, so that’s a 48-to-72-hour maximum turnaround for us.

The results come back to me and I send the patient an email with a PDF of their Fit to Fly certificate, and follow up with a courtesy call to make sure they’ve received it – even if it’s the weekend.

Each consultation takes about 15 minutes and if, for example, I’m testing a family of four, I’ll open the pharmacy at 8am instead of the usual 9am so I can get them in – and out – early.

Destinations we’ve done this for so far include Pakistan, India, Ghana, South Africa, Bolivia, Italy and the Maldives. I’ve also done two tests for people who simply wanted to see if they had Covid-19. One was for a family whose gran had been in hospital for a few weeks and was due to come home, but their young son had been going out a lot so they wanted to make sure he was Covid-negative. The other one was for a young chap whose friend had tested positive. He needed a test in order to be able to sit his mock exams rather than self-isolate, but he couldn’t get an NHS test himself because he had no symptoms.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

There was no cost as most of what we needed to make sure we were Covid safe had been done already. The Randox kits cost us about £93.50, special delivery on a week day is £6.70, or Friday for Saturday morning is £10, so that’s about £103 in total, and we charge £175 for the test.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

I joined PharmaDoctor and read through all their training. I use their e-tool to run through the service with the patient, and then put the details on the Randox website.

Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it?

Not really – it’s hard enough for some people to afford the cost of the test, so I don’t push anything else.

How have patients responded to the service?

We promoted the service by emailing all the surgeries in our area as well as a few travel agents, and it’s also on our website, so people find us that way. Everyone so far has said they are happy with the service and will tell their friends, and the parent of the young chap I tested before his exams said he’s let a lot of other parents know about it too.

Roughly how often do you carry out the service?

When we started back in September we were doing one or two a week, and now we are up to about 10 a week.

How much do you charge for the service?

We charge £175.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

I think it depends on what the need is in your area. The Randox test doesn’t come in singles, you have to buy them in fives, so if you only do one or two you’ll lose that money. Having said that, if you are anywhere inside the M25 you probably can’t go wrong.

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