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Public Health England to review guidance against the use of rapid COVID-19 tests in community pharmacies

NHS England has also announced plans to pilot the supply of lab-based COVID-19 antigen tests in community pharmacies before assessing the use of other testing technologies in the longer term.

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

Lancet fingerprick blood

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Public Health England said its guidance against using rapid point-of-care tests for COVID-19, which include finger-prick blood tests, is “under review”

Public Health England (PHE) is reviewing its guidance against the use of rapid point-of-care tests for COVID-19 in community pharmacy, it has said.

This comes as NHS England plans to roll out a pilot in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which will see community pharmacies provide COVID-19 antigen tests to patients. 

Speaking at a webinar on 12 November 2020, Jill Loader, deputy director of pharmacy commissioning at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said that the aim of the pilot was to harness the “trusted position” of pharmacy and pharmacy staff as healthcare professionals and “community figures”.

“This is looking at something much more for the longer term to normalise testing. We want to bring testing much closer to local communities,” Loader told webinar attendees.

Giving further details, she said that the pilot would be targeting people who would otherwise not go through the standard booking process for tests at home or at a regional testing site, and that individuals showing COVID-19 symptoms would not be encouraged to visit a community pharmacy in order to obtain a test.

“We do not want to send symptomatic individuals to community pharmacy, so please be reassured about that,” she said, while also highlighting that pharmacies would not be conducting the tests or be responsible for registering the test kits.

While the antigen testing will use existing qRT-PCR testing technology — which are lab-based tests — Loader said the appropriateness of new technologies would be assessed in the longer term.

The pilot follows an announcement from Boots, which plans to roll out a rapid point-of-care antigen test for COVID-19 in “the next few weeks”.

PHE currently advises against point-of-care tests for both COVID-19 antigens and antibodies in community pharmacies. However, in a comment to The Pharmaceutical Journal, PHE said its guidance from May 2020 is currently “under review”.

The General Pharmaceutical Council said on 30 October 2020 that it would also be reviewing its position on the use of COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies

It currently advises against the use of rapid antibody tests for COVID-19 in community pharmacies, in line with PHE advice, but adds that the regulator has “not taken a position on any other form of COVID-19 test” such as rapid antigen tests.

The regulator suggests that pharmacies “carry out a full and thorough risk assessment” before providing them.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208550

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