Gurbaksh Singh, superintendent pharmacist at Vantage Chemist in Coventry, talks to Saša Janković about running an HIV testing service.

Service type: HIV testing

Name and location of pharmacy: Vantage Chemist, Coventry

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Gurbaksh Singh

Why did you start offering this service?

Coventry has one of the highest rates of HIV in the West Midlands, so our local government set this up as part of an enhanced service in 2013 to tackle that issue by getting pharmacies to offer free HIV testing. It was a pilot scheme when it started but they continued to renew the contract every year because of the continued success of the service.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

We had to be hepatitis C vaccinated, but aside from that we were already running a phlebotomy service in the pharmacy, so in terms of collecting clinical waste that wasn’t an issue. There weren’t any other set-up costs, as Coventry CCG pays for the tests and we simply reorder them whenever we are running low.

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

There was nothing extra we had to do. We have an infection control document that we have to go through, and the previous lead of the service came and did a competency test on us to make sure we were doing the test properly, but it’s a very simple process.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

It’s a finger-prick test which analyses the blood straight away and gives us a validated result within 60 seconds.

We take the patient’s details before we do the test, because if they did get a positive result they may feel quite anxious and not want to hang around in the pharmacy and talk about what happens next. Coventry sexual health services would want to get in touch with them – although we have not had a positive result so far.

Patients come to us either as walk-ins or they have heard about the service from a friend, and we often end up doing the test at the end of an EHC consultation when we are giving the patient holistic advice about sexual health. Most people are happy to try it to find out what their HIV status is.

Coventry City Council has also been fantastic with advertising for us, and we get involved with HIV awareness week and events around Coventry being the City of Culture, which helps get our faces know in our local community. As with any service, you’ve got to make sure you advertise it properly and spend time with patients to go through the process so they feel they have had a useful interaction with you, because if you do a good job they are more likely to come back to the pharmacy for other things in future.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

We already ran a needle exchange and hepatitis C testing, as well as a private clinic for STI testing, so all these services build on top of each other and link in together.

We particularly find a lot of middle-aged men requesting this type of test are quite anxious about their health in general, so that leads on to advice about vitamins, as well as CBD for anxiety, which has been good for our OTC sales.

How have patients responded to the service?

A lot of people want to come into pharmacy for services rather than go to their GP, so our patients have responded well to this service. They like having a place they can drop into for a quick test, and they then ask us what other services we offer, which builds our reputation of being a service-driven pharmacy.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

Our pharmacy is just outside the city centre next to the University, so lots of our patients are students and we get very busy in September. Before the pandemic, 60 tests a month was our busiest, but it’s well worth the extra work because patients like the service and we do see people again, if they have changed sexual partners for example.

How much do you charge for the service?

It’s free of charge for patients with an address and a GP in Coventry, or who are a student here. If someone requests it who lives outside Coventry we can use our private test kits and charge them £110.Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors? Absolutely – I would 100% take it on if it was offered to me again, because the more services you can do for your patients the better.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Absolutely – I would 100% take it on if it was offered to me again, because the more services you can do for your patients the better.