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GPhC makes U-turn on Covid-19 antibody tests in pharmacies

By Isabel Shaw

15 Feb 2021

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is no longer advising community pharmacies against providing rapid point of care/near person antibody tests for Covid-19 after reviewing updated guidance from Public Health England (PHE).

The regulator said it will expect pharmacies who do supply the tests to ‘carefully consider the PHE guidance’ and all ‘other relevant guidance’ when deciding which tests are appropriate.

In the update, posted on the GPhC’s website today (15 February), the body also said it expected test providers to ‘carry out a full risk assessment’ and to provide pharmacy owners with examples of what they should consider when carrying out their own risk assessments.

It added: ‘It is essential that any pharmacy offering Covid-19 tests also checks whether they need to be accredited with the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.’

This comes after PHE published new guidance earlier this month (1 February), which said that point-of-care or near-person tests (POC/NP) – which provide results in around 30 minutes – may be used in several different healthcare settings including a pharmacy.

The GPhC initially said in July last year that it was ‘not appropriate’ for pharmacy teams to be selling or recommending rapid antibody tests in community pharmacies in line with advice published by PHE at the time.

In its update, the GPhC said: ‘We have kept our position on the supply of Covid-19 tests from pharmacies under close review, in this complex and fast-changing landscape.

‘We have been in regular contact with other regulators and public health bodies with leading roles in relation to testing to understand their current positions.’

‘Long awaited U-turn’

Graham Thoms, chief executive officer of PGD provider Pharmadoctor, has been calling for community pharmacies to be allowed to sell the tests since last year.

Mr Thoms told the Pharmacist he was ‘pleased’ the GPhC had updated their guidance on Covid tests ‘rather than follow out of date advice first published by PHE last March’, which he said ‘singled out pharmacists as the only healthcare professionals not to be permitted to provide Covid testing services’.

‘This long awaited U-turn will enable pharmacies to continue providing much needed Covid testing services without the threat of a fitness to practice case,’ he added.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), also welcomed the GPhC’s new position.

‘Community pharmacies are no longer explicitly prohibited from providing Covid tests, which was a clear anomaly in the initial position,’ he said.

‘We believe our persistence helped bring about this levelling of the playing field in relation to testing, as well as a big dollop of common sense.’

He added: ‘We are now examining the detail of this modified guidance – PHE and GPhC – so that the full implications can be properly understood.’

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