Community pharmacy staff in England can now be referred to be tested for Covid-19, if necessary, the health secretary announced on Friday (17 April).

Those eligible for the free testing will be from two groups – symptomatic members of community pharmacy staff who are self-isolating because of their symptoms, and the symptomatic members of a household where a pharmacy staff member is living and is self-isolating as a precaution.

The antigen test may be accessed through one of the 22 drive-through test centres currently up and running in England.

However, it is unclear what capacity the centres have, and how quickly eligible healthcare professionals – such as pharmacy staff -- will be able to attend.

Testing will allow those who are self-isolating – because they or someone in their household is symptomatic – to return to work if they do not have the virus.

How do I get tested?

Pharmacy staff who think they, or a member of their household, is eligible for the free test should speak to their employer, who can now organise testing through the CQC online portal. Details of the portal are being kept confidential, to ensure that only healthcare staff have access.

To be eligible, pharmacy staff or members of their household must have access to a car, as the sites cannot test people who walk, take public transport or a taxi, warned PSNC.

The free test, which is conducted at the test site in a car, involves taking a swab of the nose and back of the throat, can be self-administered or carried out by someone else.

Pharmacy staff can expect to receive test results within 48 hours of the test being administrated.

Testing capacity badly needed

Until now, only some community pharmacy teams have been able to access testing at local centres, leaving many pharmacy team members in England having to self-isolate and miss work even if they don’t have the virus.

This has led to stress on the workforce and a number of pharmacies having to temporarily shut due to low staffing.

A further 28 drive-through testing centres in England are planned, Mr Hancock said at Friday’s Health and Social Care Committee. The government also plans to utilise mobile testing units and home-testing kits 'once the technology is good enough'.

‘The good news is that we’re able to expand – because we’re expanding the capacity to test, therefore we’re able to expand the number of tests that are done not only on, for instance, patients going to care homes as I announced earlier this week, but also for NHS staff and members of their households, if the member of the NHS staff is isolating because of household isolation,' he said.

Meanwhile, this lack of widespread testing of NHS staff has meant some pharmacy contractors have had to close their doors as a further measure to protect their staff from contracting the illness.