Pharmacy industry leaders have asked the public to be patient and understanding with pharmacy teams while the lateral flow test shortage is ongoing.

In an open letter, addressed to the pharmacy patients today (7 January), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) reminded customers to treat pharmacy staff who are ‘doing their utmost best to support you’ with ‘courtesy’.

With supplies still said to be ‘patchy’, pharmacy bosses are warning that staff are facing ‘unfair’ and ‘abusive’ behaviour by customers who are unable to pick up testing kits.

The letter read: ‘Pharmacies have distributed nearly 300 million lateral flow tests, but the current supply into pharmacies is not enough to meet demand. They are doing everything they can but are not in control of the national supply chain.’

The two bodies candidly noted it was ‘unfair’ that pharmacies are being put in a position where they must ration stock.

‘We have told the Government it must either guarantee enough stock or have an honest conversation with the public about prioritising essential workers,’ they said.

The letter also explained to patients that having a collect code for a test kit does not guarantee them a test kit. ‘We would rather they [collect codes] were not required, but that is the system we currently have to work with,’ it said.

Mark Lyonette, NPA’s chief executive, acknowledged that the current supply situation with LFTs is ‘stretching people’s patience,’ but said that this was ‘no excuse for abusive behaviour’ and that people ‘need to understand the constraints on pharmacy teams’.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said he was ‘saddened’ to hear reports of pharmacy staff being subject to abuse and violence.

He said: ‘We urge members of the public to remember that pharmacy teams are on the frontline doing everything they can to support patients.

‘This includes distributing lateral flow test kits and administering nearly 17 million Covid-19 vaccines to date.

‘Teams have worked tirelessly since the pandemic began in early 2020 and it’s imperative that members of the public treat staff with the respect that they deserve,’ he added.

Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), had also called on the public to be patient in pharmacies that are running out of lateral flow test kits.

Last month she said: ‘Pharmacists are working incredibly hard on the frontline to support the public. There is a limited stock of lateral flow testing kits supplied to pharmacies each day to distribute to the public. Pharmacies cannot obtain additional supplies which have resulted in some pharmacies running out of test kits.’

‘We ask that the public remain patient with pharmacists and their teams who are already dealing with the increased workload of medicines supply during the holiday season,’ she added.

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.