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Infectious diseases

Pharmacists able to access COVID-19 testing within one day of sending in a request

Exclusive: There are around 20,000 slots per day available for pharmacists and other key workers to receive next-day COVID-19 infection testing across the UK.

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

To learn more about coronavirus, please visit: https://www.rpharms.com/resources/pharmacy-guides/wuhan-novel-coronavirus

COVID 19 nasal swab test

Source: Shutterstock.com

Testing for coronavirus infection requires samples to taken from the upper respiratory tract, such as the back of the nasal cavity where it meets the throat

Community pharmacists in the West Midlands can be tested for COVID-19 the day after requesting one from NHS England, local pharmacy leaders have said.

Local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) chief officers told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the testing process is running smoothly, with 30 slots per day kept available for eligible pharmacists at the testing centre in the Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham.

Their comments come as Public Health England (PHE) says there is scope for around 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day for NHS staff and other key workers.

John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE and a government adviser on increasing COVID-19 testing capacity, said at a press briefing on 16 April 2020 that the testing centres across the UK have “capacity to test people and should be getting people through, if they feel they have to be tested in order to get back to work”.

“I would love to test community pharmacists,” he added. “How do you decide whether a taxi driver is more important than a care worker or a GP — I would like to be testing all of them.”

The government currently has 27 testing sites open across the UK, including Edgbaston Cricket Ground and Sixways Stadium in Worcester, West Midlands.

According to Herefordshire and Worcestershire LPC website, pharmacists are eligible for a test at either site under certain circumstances (see Box). They will have to complete an online form, which is then emailed to a central NHS England co-ordinating address in order to be given a testing slot.

The information must be emailed by 14:00 on the day before the test to allow adequate time for the booking team to arrange a time slot.

Fiona Lowe, chief officer at the LPC, said she has not seen data on the number of pharmacists tested, but added that she has been “told that pharmacy teams are attending, that it’s a smooth process and test results are back within 48 hours”.

“It’s tricky because you have to be tested when you have the symptoms — within the first five days. That means you have to have a really slick system,” she said.

Jeff Blankley, chief officer for Birmingham and Solihull LPC and Wolverhampton LPC, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that pharmacies are “delighted” that the testing centres are there.

“We asked for testing and, now that we have got it, we are under an obligation to take advantage of the facility that is there,” he said.

“We’ve been told by NHS England that between 30% and 50% of the slots are currently being used each day.”

He added: “If we have higher [staff] attendance levels in the pharmacy then it will mean less workload pressures from the huge increase in activity that we have seen since lockdown where we have been trying to do more work with less staff.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs during a House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee meeting on 17 April 2020 that uptake of testing from NHS staff had been “lower than expected”, opening up capacity to expand testing to other groups, such as care homes.

He told MPs that over 50,000 NHS staff have been tested for COVID-19 so far, with 18,665 tests carried out on 16 April 2020, the majority of which (around 16,000) tested those with a medical need and the most critical key workers.

Hancock also announced that testing was now being expanded to include the police, the fire service, prison staff, critical local authority staff, judiciary and Department of Work and Pensions staff.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 16 April 2020 that it was awaiting more information from NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care about how the testing system for pharmacists is working.

The PSNC added that it is currently relying on LPCs to keep it informed when local systems are up and running.

Box

COVID-19 testing eligibility scenarios set out on the Herefordshire and Worcestershire LPC website:

  • Self-isolating because pharmacy key worker is symptomatic — the pharmacy key worker is the only eligible person in their household to receive a test.
  • Self-isolating because an adult (aged over 18 years) in their household is symptomatic, but the key worker is not — only the adult household member of the pharmacy key worker is eligible to come to a test centre to receive a COVID-19 test. The key worker will not receive a test. If more than one household member is symptomatic, but not the key worker, then all household members should be tested.
  • Self-isolating because a child (aged under 18 years) in their household member is symptomatic, but the key worker is not — only the child household member of the key worker is eligible to come to a test centre to receive a COVID-19 test.
  • Self-isolating for other reasons — if the NHS keyworker is self-isolating for other reasons and is not symptomatic they are not eligible to be tested.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207908

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