Everyone in England over the age of 18, including those without Covid symptoms, will be able to access a free rapid coronavirus test up to twice a week from their local pharmacy, the Government has announced.

This comes after the new NHS community pharmacy Covid-19 lateral flow device distribution service ‘Pharmacy Collect’ was added to the NHS Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework last week.

The Pharmacy Collect service was initially only to be made available to certain groups or individuals — including school children and teaching staff — but will now be available to everyone from 9 April.

‘People aged over 18 without symptoms will be able to visit a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of 7 rapid tests to use twice a week at home,’ the update said.

Amo Sohal, the superintendent pharmacist at Kitson’s pharmacy in Worcester — who started offering the tests at his pharmacy today (6 April) — said that the service was already proving ‘very popular’ with his patients, having already given out 12 boxes by midday.

‘This only issue which I have not managed to solve yet is we have had quite a few people ring up who are currently isolating or who are too afraid to come into the pharmacy, ask if we can deliver their test.’

As it stands, there is no additional funding available for pharmacies to deliver Covid tests. ‘So we’re trying to get some more advice on whether we can deliver to these patients who are elderly and vulnerable,’ he explained.

People who do not have symptoms can also access tests from an at-home ordering service, workplace testing programmes, collection at a local PCR test site, and onsite testing at schools and colleges.

‘Rapid testing will be offered to everyone, with people encouraged to take regular tests to help prevent outbreaks and reclaim a more normal way of life,’ the update explained.

More frequent testing

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.

Pharmacy teams will not be involved or responsible for the generation of test results, supporting the reporting of results or the next steps for the person taking the test.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said that AIMp’s members are ‘eager to do anything that can help our local communities combat this awful disease.’

‘It makes absolute sense for people to test frequently as possible as near to where they live as possible. This can break chains of transmission early.

‘Community pharmacies are convenient locations that are customer-focused and accessible without an appointment and our customers and patients have already shown interest in the service’.

Commenting on the new development, prime minister Boris Johnson said: ‘Massive efforts have been made by the British public to stop the spread of the virus.

‘As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our roadmap to cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.’

Research led by the University of Oxford and Public Health England (PHE) back 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.