Community pharmacy staff will continue to receive free asymptomatic COVID-19 tests

Community pharmacy staff in contact with patients will be able to continue to access lateral flow testing for asymptomatic COVID-19 free of charge from April 2022, the government has confirmed.

In his ‘Living with COVID-19‘, published in February 2022, the government announced the end of access to free lateral flow testing for the general public from 1 April 2022.

This decision was taken because the government noted that free universal testing had a significant cost to the taxpayer, with the test, trace and isolate budget costing over £15.7billion in 2021/2022, as well as a higher level of protection. against COVID-19 among the population than before during the pandemic.

The plan had promised “some limited ongoing free testing”, including limited symptomatic testing “for a small number of at-risk groups” and free symptomatic testing for social service staff.

However, in a update posted March 29, 2022the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said asymptomatic lateral flow testing will now continue from April 2022 “in certain high-risk settings where infection can spread rapidly while prevalence is high”, including for “staff in contact with NHS patients” In England.

When asked if this included free lateral flow testing for community pharmacy staff, a DHSC spokesperson said The Pharmaceutical Journal that NHS England and Improvement ‘confirmed that all staff in contact with primary care are included in free testing’.

The government update added that free symptomatic testing will be available for hospital patients, people living or working in high-risk settings and for “people eligible for COVID-19 community treatments”.

To access community COVID-19 treatments, which include antivirals and neutralizing monoclonal antibody treatments, patients must have received a positive PCR test for COVID-19 and symptoms of COVID-19 within the past five days.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “As we learn to live with COVID-19, we are focusing our testing offer on those most at risk of serious consequences from the virus, while encouraging people to continue to follow simple steps to protect themselves and others.

She added that “vaccination remains the best way to protect us all from serious illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection.”

By November 2021, community pharmacies had responded to 17 million requests for lateral flow test kits as part of the Pharmacy Collect service.

However, pharmacists were notified by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee on March 17, 2022 that they must “proactively distribute test kits” before the service ends on March 31, 2022, as “there will not be a process in place to collect unused kits from pharmacies at the end of the service and the UKHSA discourages the destruction of test kits”.

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