Over 10,000 community pharmacies in England placed an order for Covid tests with NHS England between December and March, the Pharmacist has learned.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, NHS England confirmed that as of 7 March 2021, a total of 10,384 pharmacies had placed ‘at least one’ order of the lateral flow tests for their staff.

NHS England announced last November that all patient-facing NHS staff would be eligible for lateral flow antigen tests, with an initial deadline for orders of 30 December.

The tests - for use by asymptomatic staff - involve bi-weekly swabs to be taken at home and any positive results should be confirmed with a PCR test.

The FOI response said that over 99% of orders placed by the December deadline had been delivered. Where delivery of 'a small number' of orders had been unsuccessful, delivery had been ‘attempted at least once’.

Over 99% of lateral flow test orders placed by 7 March had also been fulfilled, NHS England added.

The tests have received a mixed response from pharmacy staff, with some respondents to a recent survey* by the Pharmacist commenting that their orders had arrived too late.

One respondent commented that the tests were ‘useless’, adding: ‘We got hit before the first wave in London. Tests would have been useful 12 months ago.’

Another said: ‘They came very late, only recently – we needed them earlier.’

Meanwhile, another respondent said the tests were ‘not as useful’ because they arrived after staff had already been vaccinated and that it was also ‘quite labour intensive’ to upload the results – which health workers are currently expected to do via an online Government portal.

However, many respondents also commented that the tests had been ‘useful’ as they provided reassurance for staff and helped to reduce employee absence.

‘The tests have been important for the staff and myself to ensure correct staffing levels to maintain safe working practice,’ one pharmacist commented.

Another said: [The tests are] very useful and also reassuring for the staff members to know that we are working in a safe environment.’

Others reported that the tests had prevented them from ‘losing staff to isolation’ and that they had seen ‘no Covid absences’ since using them.

Three quarters (75%) of 100 pharmacy professionals responding to the Pharmacist’s survey – which ran from 2 March to 12 April – said they had received an order of the tests.

Last month (9 March), primary care contractors were invited by Primary Care Support England (PCSE) – which is managing the order and delivery process – to place a second round of orders.

NHS England said in the FOI response that contractors have also been able to place orders on ‘an ongoing basis to meet their needs’.

Commenting on the findings, Alistair Buxton, PSNC’s director of services, said: ‘Asymptomatic testing is a useful tool to help improve virus detection in community pharmacy thereby helping to protect staff, reduce transmission and improve the resilience of vital services.

‘When regular coronavirus testing was first offered to hospital workers, PSNC pressed for this to be made available to all pharmacy staff as key healthcare workers. While their use remains voluntary, it forms an important part of the Government’s wider roadmap for Covid recovery.’

*The full results from our Covid pressures survey will be published shortly.