Over 90% of all community pharmacies in England are now offering free rapid Covid tests, the Government has said.
The Pharmacy Collect service, which was added to the NHS Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework last month, allows asymptomatic members of the public to access a box of seven free rapid coronavirus tests to use twice a week from their local pharmacy.
The test — which is available to all adults over the age of 18 — provides results in 30 minutes and can be taken from the patient’s home.
Pharmacy Collect is part of the NHS Test and Trace offering and is optional for pharmacies.
It has been commissioned by the NHS as part of the Government’s Covid-19 roadmap plan, which will work to reopen society and the economy while helping to suppress and control the spread of variants.
Commenting on the high uptake, Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, said: ‘Pharmacies make an invaluable contribution to our health service; they have gone above and beyond in response to Covid-19 to serve their communities.
‘Now, they will play a key role in our rapid testing programme, which is a vital tool in reopening society in the months ahead.’
He added: ‘I have been delighted at the level of interest and how fast the response has been from pharmacies to take part, with nine in 10 registering to offer rapid test kits within 10 days.
‘This new service will make it even easier for people to access rapid testing twice a week. The testing only takes 30 minutes and will help people stop the spread of the virus – protecting families and communities and saving lives.’
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) also said that while most pharmacies have test kits available, it was aware that some are unable to immediately order them.
It added that stock is being ‘replenished to wholesalers on a daily basis with deliveries being made to pharmacies within a matter of days in order to meet demand’.
Research led by the University of Oxford and Public Health England (PHE) and published in January found lateral flow tests are ‘sufficiently sensitive’ to detect the ‘majority’ of cases that lead to onward transmission of Covid-19.
The team’s modelling found that the most sensitive lateral flow test of four kits tested would identify 91% of Covid cases, whereas the least sensitive detected 84% of people with the virus.
However, last week the Guardian exclusively revealed that senior officials are considering scaling back the widespread testing of people without symptoms, due to a growing number of false positives from lateral flow tests in areas with low Covid rates.