Supplies of lateral flow tests (LFTs) remain ‘patchy’ in pharmacies across England following the surge in demand over the Christmas period, pharmacy leaders have said.  

Pharmacies in England have struggled to keep up with a huge surge in demand for Covid tests after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on the increasing threat of the Omicron variant last month (12 December). 

In the same briefing, the Government announced that contacts of Omicron cases would be allowed to avoid a 10-day self-isolation period by taking daily LFTs.  

The following day (13 December), online orders of home LFTs were suspended after ‘high demand’ on the Government website. Patients were then directed to pharmacies to collect the tests,  

On 22 December, guidance also changed to allow the 10-day self-isolation period for those who tested positive for Covid-19 to be reduced to seven days, if they receive a negative LTF test result on day six and seven of their isolation.  

Pharmacy leaders have attributed the increase in demand for tests, in part, to people wanting to test before meeting up with vulnerable family and friends over the festive period. 

However, demand for the tests has remained high as Christmas has come to an end and children have begun going back to school, they have said.  

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.  

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said: ‘The demand is still very high now because the Government's guidelines put a lot of emphasis on testing as a key out of self-isolation, so naturally as Omicron cases are high people are reliant on tests to get on with daily life.'  

'Up until yesterday the supply to pharmacies were still patchy. The past few days the situation has not improved.   

'Pharmacies are having to put up with a lot of abuse and aggressive behaviors by members of the public because of this situation which is unfair.’ 

Similarly, Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs, National Pharmacy Association (NPA),  has predicted ‘a new demand driven by people returning to work and school in the weeks ahead’.  

He also called on the Government to ensure healthcare professionals get priority access to the limited number of tests available.  

‘If the Government can’t guarantee enough supply to meet the demand created by their policies then there needs to be a candid conversation with the public about prioritising essential workers including health care staff,’ he said..’ 

‘We want to avoid ongoing frustrations for the public and to prevent blame falling unfairly on pharmacy teams and the medicines supply chain.’ 

Despite this, the Government has urged the public to ‘persevere’ in their efforts to secure Covid tests amid warnings from pharmacies of patchy supply.  

The work and pPensions minister Chloe Smith said on BBC Breakfast earlier this week that delivery capacity of lateral flow tests has been doubled to ensure kits are delivered to people at home and chemists.  

It comes after, the Welsh Government announced last week that it would loan four million lateral flow tests to England as demand for testing kits has created shortages. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed that the Welsh Government had stepped in to help as Wales had a ‘significant stock’ of Covid testing supplies. 

Mr Drakeford said the demand for rapid home testing kits had reached ‘record levels’ - and Wales was stepping in to help England pick up any shortfall ahead of New Year celebrations. 

Yesterday, the i paper reported that the Government was warned a month ago that a lateral flow testing crisis was looming without significantly increased supplies.  

Ms Hannbeck, told i the crisis could have been avoided with better planning. 

‘I raised this with the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) in early December saying a lot more kits would be needed asking what its plans are but they never answered my question’, she said. 

Last month, Alliance Healthcare — England’s only supplier of LFTs to community pharmacies — said on its website that the ‘unprecedented demand for lateral flow test kits from people testing due to the Omicron variant, combined with precautionary testing before the Christmas period, continues’. 

In response to the high demand, the UKHSA has created posters for pharmacies to download, print and display on-premises informing customers that the pharmacy is temporarily out of LFT tests.