Christmas Covid testing strategy in chaos as pharmacies run out of lateral flow kits

High street pharmacies have gone more than a week without resupplies of lateral flow kits, throwing the Government’s Christmas testing strategy into chaos.

Vendors have spoken of “panic” among customers desperate to give themselves the all-clear before seeing vulnerable loved-ones.

The rush for the rapid tests follows repeated urging from Boris Johnson, his senior ministers and officials to use them before attending indoor gatherings over the holiday.

The need for lateral flows (LFTs) has also been escalated by the relaxation of the isolation period for people who have tested positive from 10 days down to seven.

A negative lateral flow test does not mean you are virus-free

However, people across the UK are reporting being unable to access any kits in their area.

Pharmacies across the country have been displaying posters asking customers to try again another day.

The Government has admitted a “supply chain issue” had hampered deliveries to the high street.

Pharmacies are currently entitled to order one box of 59 kits per day, but some have now not received any shipments since before last weekend.

‘Last box was a week ago’

The Telegraph understands that in the south west of England, the supplier for pharmacies, Alliance Health, was this week receiving just 100 boxes per day, less than 10 per cent of what it needs to meet demand in the region.

Anjala Sihota, a pharmacist in Bordon, Hampshire, said: “Our last box was a week ago.

“It is quite difficult, especially with Christmas coming and people wanting to meet their families, they want to get tested before they meet people, which is what the Government guidelines are, and if they’re unable to get a test, then obviously the panic sets in.

“I think it’s going to make people scared to go out and meet family.”

Mike Hewitson, who runs a pharmacy in Beaminster, Dorset, said his last delivery of 59 kits sold out in 90 minutes.

He said the daily deliveries had been “hit and miss” for several weeks, but had deteriorated rapidly since last week.

“Patients are getting quite distressed and angry that they cannot get tests but they are being told by the Government that they should be testing,” he said.

“I’ve had more people shouting at me than at any time during the pandemic.”

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it had distributed more than 11 million rapid flow tests to pharmacies last week.

It added that it had doubled its delivery “capacity” straight to people’s homes to 900,000 a day.

‘Unprecedented demand’

James Wood, from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said: “We have been reassured again today that LFT stock is available to pharmacies and that more LFTs will be delivered to them next week.

“But pharmacies are still telling us that they are struggling to satisfy demand – this may be exacerbated by the new self-isolation rules, meaning more people than ever need and want to test.

“We would ask for ongoing patience with pharmacy teams who still cannot order beyond their daily test cap and are working extremely hard to support patients and the public during this busy period.”

Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory body, has recommended that lateral flow testing be used at a “group level”, meaning that one positive result should stop all the rest in the group from socialising, even if they test negative.

A UKHSA spokesman said: “Despite unprecedented demand, we are continuing to supply millions of rapid lateral flow tests every day.

“We are issuing record numbers of rapid test kits to people’s homes across the country, and our delivery capacity has doubled to 900,000 test kits per day since Saturday 18 December so more people can order tests.

“Over the last weekend, more than 7 million lateral flow tests were distributed to households ordering online.

“Due to a supply chain issue there was a temporary delay in some pharmacies receiving their rapid test orders.

“Pharmacies are now continuing to receive deliveries.”

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