Lateral flow tests are running out in pharmacies across Britain amid a supply chain crisis after a massive scramble for kits before Christmas.
More than 11 million test kits were sent to pharmacies last week – double the number the week before – but that was not enough as many Britons are taking to social media to complain that they cannot find a pack anywhere locally.
Some pharmacies have put up signs inside their branches saying they are temporarily out of stock, while people have also struggled to order tests online.
The “unprecedented” demand was further accelerated by desperate people to test themselves before seeing relatives or staying with them over Christmas.
However, there appear to be plenty of openings available across the UK for PCR tests for those who test positive for lateral flow as well as their family members.
It comes after the government announced on December 12 that fully immunized contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus will no longer need to self-isolate but instead undergo a lateral flow test every day for seven days.
The massive increase in demand shortly after Boris Johnson said this prompted the government website to say they are “now unavailable” to order.
A woman points to a sign at a pharmacy window in north London on Saturday that lateral flow test kits have run out
This label from the UK’s Health Security Agency is a familiar sight in pharmacies across the UK
Health experts also discussed when is a good time to get tested as people can change from a positive to negative result in just a matter of hours.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said pharmacies across England received “record numbers” of lateral flow tests during the week of December 13.
How do you perform lateral flow tests?
The NHS has a search tool that allows people to find the nearest pharmacies that have tests available to collect. It is: www.maps.test-and-trace.nhs.uk.
Alternatively, people can order a package from Gov.uk to have it delivered to their homes. One package can be ordered per day.
It can also be collected from community collection points or people can visit a testing point near their homes.
Contractors providing a lateral flow device dispensing service for Covid-19 said there was an increase in demand for the kits following the prime minister’s statement, Pharmaceutical Journal reported.
On December 14, pharmacy leaders said “several contractors” had warned that drug supplies in pharmacies were unable to meet public demand.
But UKHSA said yesterday that “more than 11 million test kits [were] It has been sent to pharmacies across the UK “in the week of 13 December and that the supply chain issue is being resolved and normal service will resume soon”.
A spokesperson added: ‘There is no shortage of free rapid tests and there are a range of ways people can get them to help fight the spread of Covid-19’.
According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, an update from Alliance Healthcare on Sunday said that “unprecedented demand for lateral flow test kits from people testing for the Omicron variant, along with preventive testing before the Christmas period, continues.”
Last week, people reported being unable to order lateral flow tests on the NHS website while pharmacies displayed posters saying they were out of stock.
People trying to book PCR tests ran into problems, too, with some being directed to sites several miles away or told there were no slots available.
Dr Jenny Harris, chief executive of UKHSA, played down suggestions for a shortage, saying the requests for lateral flow tests had been “absolutely staggering”, with “unprecedented demand” for PCR tests.
How accurate are lateral flow tests?
A study by Queen Mary University of London, the University of Oxford, the Vienna-based Institute for Advanced Study and the Medical University of Graz published in July found that lateral flow tests detected more than 95 percent of cases detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). He correctly identified 89 percent of cases as negative.
In March 2021, the Royal College of Pathologists said positive results for LFTs should be confirmed with PCR tests and people should self-isolate before receiving a PCR result.
Last week, the Health Security Agency (HSA) said lateral flow tests are just as likely to detect Omicron as other variants of the coronavirus.
PCR tests are still the most accurate tests when diagnosing coronavirus but should only be used by people who show symptoms.
Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, said issues around access to tests were linked to distribution, not availability.
The Company’s Chemists’ Association (CCA), the trade association for major pharmacy operators in England, Scotland and Wales including Rowlands and Superdrug, said demand has outpaced supply in some areas.
Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Harrison said: “CCA members continue to receive supplies of lateral flow tests but we recognize that in some areas there have been difficulties where demand outweighs supply, particularly in the lead-up to Christmas.
“Pharmacies are managing demand as best they can and we urge members of the public to be patient at this difficult time for all of us.”
A spokesperson for Boots said the chain provides lateral flow tests at more than 2,100 pharmacies in the UK but “there may be a small number of stores experiencing temporary shortages due to high demand in certain areas”.
Lloyd’s Pharmacy said tests were available but that there was “high demand”.
Currently, there are no issues with ordering tests on the government website.
Lateral flow tests, or antigen tests, are the rapid tests that tell people whether or not they have the coronavirus.
Lateral flow tests provide results and tell people within 30 minutes if they have coronavirus by detecting proteins from the virus in nose and throat samples.
Scientists have differing views about its accuracy. However, PCR tests are very accurate but take up to three days for results to appear.
They detect genetic material from a specific organism, specifically the coronavirus, and they are the best way to test if you have a current infection.
According to the Royal College of Pathologists, lateral flow tests should be performed by people without symptoms.
A fact sheet on the RCP website states: “These tests are very different from PCR. They are not suitable for diagnosing individual patients who suspect they may be infected because they have symptoms.
People with symptoms need a PCR test. Lateral flow tests are intended to capture additional cases that would otherwise have been missed because no symptoms were present.
On the NHS website, it also says that people who show symptoms of coronavirus should also complete a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test.
People have also been struggling to order lateral flow tests online (pictured on December 13th). Currently, there are no issues with ordering tests on the government website
Current advice states that if the test result is positive in lateral flow, you should proceed with the PCR test.
People are advised to take lateral flow tests before mingling with crowds indoors or visiting someone at high risk of contracting Covid-19.
It is also advised that if you have been vaccinated, but have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you should have a lateral flow test.
Erin Petersen, professor of epidemiology at University College London, said on Sunday that official advice should be updated to say people should get tested before they are about to meet others because of the rapid infection rate of Omicron.
She added that test results “expire quickly” because people “may go from being non-infectious to contagious within hours.”
Government guidance currently recommends testing “if you are going to face a very high risk situation that day”.
Professor Stephen Reacher told BBC Breakfast yesterday that people should take lateral flow tests before meeting friends and family this Christmas.