Community Pharmacy NI urges customers not to hoard lateral flow tests
Demand for lateral flow tests in Northern Ireland is outstripping supply, according to Peter Rice, the chair of Community Pharmacy NI.
Warning patients only to get the tests if they need them, he said the main problem is getting supplies out from the central store to pharmacies.
At the end of last month, new Covid-19 testing measures were put in place to cope with the rise in demand for PCR tests as the Omicron variant spread.
Fully vaccinated people who are identified as close contacts are now advised to take daily lateral flow tests for 10 days following their exposure, but these tests have been hard to come by for many because of the rise in demand.
“The supply is dealt with through one of our wholesalers, but they’re obviously having to focus on the supply of medicine first and foremost,” Mr Rice said.
“It means each pharmacy only gets one box of lateral flow tests per day and in some cases that box is used up within the first hour or so of getting it.”
Mr Rice said pharmacies have been in discussion with the Department of Health, but as the supply is a four-country service they have had to make representations to the Department of Health in England.
“We’ve been liaising with the Department of Health hopefully to increase the supplies so instead of getting one box there’s the potential to get two boxes,” he said.
“But at the minute it’s just a matter of being patient. If the public can realise that obviously pharmacies are under quite significant pressure with Omicron, with staff shortages and with the increased workload of coronavirus.
“So we’d really ask the public to be patient and only come forward if they need the testing kits and not to be hoarding them.”
A Londonderry pharmacist has said his business is more stretched now than any other stage of the pandemic.
Liam Bradley, who has 12 pharmacy branches across Northern Ireland, said he has had to reduce opening hours because of the number of staff self-isolating.
Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle, Mr Bradley said he believes the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
“We’ve never had a situation like this before where we’ve had more than one pharmacist off at a time,” he said.
“It really has meant that we are juggling staff around making sure that we have a pharmacist in each branch, so that the branch can serve the community in which it is based.”
Mr Bradley said there had been huge demand for lateral flow tests.
“The Department of Health released a huge number of lateral flow tests into community pharmacies on Monday, but they are all gone,” he said.
“We got enough supplies that I thought it would have done us several weeks, but they were used up within a day and a half.”