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Pharmacy teams should not use or supply rapid antibody tests, GPhC advises

By Isabel Shaw

22 Jul 2020

Pharmacy teams have been advised by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) that ‘in the light of current public health advice’ it is ‘not appropriate’ to be selling or recommending rapid antibody tests in community pharmacies ‘at this point in time’.

In a letter sent to pharmacy contractors yesterday (21 July), Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC asked pharmacies to ‘support public health’ by not offering the test to the public, despite it being legal to do so.

‘We would expect all pharmacy professionals to consider the wider public health impact,’ the GPhC letter said. ‘During this ongoing national public health crisis, any activity that may contribute to false results or assurances that then impact on public behaviour should not be supported.’

Mixed results

Mr Rudkin highlighted the position of both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) who advised that there are ‘potentially negative impacts on public health if individuals assume immunity from a positive result and adapt their behaviour in a way which could increase the risk of continued transmission’.

In response to such tests being made widely available, Public Health England (PHE) published guidance in March that suggested that too little was known about the novel virus to be able to rely on the tests’ results.

Since then, evidence has emerged from a report on Covid-19 antibody testing – presented to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – which said ‘commercial tests that have come to market more recently are performing well’.

PHE not updating guidance

While PHE recognised the improvements in test performance, the body told the Pharmacist that it is not updating guidance on the tests at this time (22 July), as the SAGE report also describes the potential for false-positive and false-negative results. It also highlights the continued areas of uncertainty around the presence of antibodies and immunity.

The letter acknowledged that manufacturers selling and supplying Covid-19 rapid antibody testing kits and that these tests are being offered privately in several community pharmacies across Great Britain.

Graham Thoms, Chief Executive Officer of Pharmadoctor – UK’s leading provider of clinical service packages to community pharmacy – told the Pharmacist that as of today (22 July), the supplier has provided 513 pharmacies across the UK with Biopanda COVID-19 Rapid Test Kits.

The test uses a sample of blood from a finger prick test and produces results in 10 minutes. It should only be performed and evaluated by a healthcare professional such as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician and cannot be sold directly to the public, he said.

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