The English chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has condemned rumoured plans that would see free lateral flow tests (LFTs) scrapped, over concerns it will exasperate health inequalities.   

The Sunday Times reported this weekend (9 January) that the end of free lateral flow tests could come 'within weeks’ in a move that may also see the NHS Test and Trace system scaled back. 

The article said that tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals and schools, as well as people with symptoms. 

Speaking about the rumour on BBC One yesterday (9 January), RPS chair Thorrun Govind, said she would ‘hate’ to see free lateral flow tests be scaled back.  

She compared the situation to patients who come into the pharmacy and are forced to choose between two prescriptions because they cannot afford both.  

‘When it comes to health it should not be a case of whether you can afford it as to whether you can protect your family and communities,’ she said. 

‘I do not want us to be in a situation in future where people are unable to test and therefore will go on and pass the virus because of their inability to afford a test’, she added.  

Housing secretary Michael Gove this morning (10 January) told Sky News that lateral flow tests would be free for ‘as long as we need them’ and that the country was moving to a time when ‘it is possible to say we can live with Covid’ and the pressure on the NHS is ‘abating’.  

However, he also said the country was ‘not there yet’.  

Meanwhile, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, dismissed the reports that lateral flow tests would no longer be available for free, saying he did ‘not recognise’ the Government plan.  

Questioned by Sky News on Sunday if there were any plans to stop free lateral flow tests, Mr Zahawi said ‘absolutely not’. 

Asked whether she was ‘reassured’ by Mr Zahawi’s comment, Ms Govind said: ‘I think I will be reassured when we [have] more [lateral flow test] supplies coming into pharmacies’. 

She went on to explain that pharmacies are currently experiencing abuse from the public because pharmacies are ‘not getting the supplies’ they need to keep up with demand.  

PSNC confirmed on Wednesday (5 January) that LFT deliveries to pharmacies are set to rise by a third under new Government plans amid huge demand. 

In an update, the negotiating body said that the Government is currently ‘finalising plans’ to incorporate a second delivery partner to the test distribution scheme to increase the number of LFTs pharmacies receive each week. 

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), told The Pharmacist she believed the plans for an additional 3.5 million test kits should mean pharmacies can meet demand. 

When asked whether the plan to scrap free test kits would be put into action anytime soon, a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told The Pharmacist that the Government does not comment on speculation.  

They also said: ‘Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them. Record numbers of tests are being delivered to pharmacies, homes and those who need them.’