Lateral flow tests hit by 'supply chain' crisis four days before Christmas: Pharmacies hit by delivery delays as Brits scramble for swab kits before seeing family

 Pharmacies across Britain are running out of lateral flow tests amid a supply chain crisis following a huge scramble by people to get hold of kits before Christmas.

More than 11million test kits were sent out to pharmacies last week – double the number in the previous week - but this was not enough as many Britons are taking to social media to complain they still cannot not find a pack anywhere locally.

Some pharmacies placed signs inside their branches saying they were temporarily out of stock, while people have also been struggling to order the tests online.

The 'unprecedented' demand has been further accelerated by people desperate to get themselves tested before seeing or staying with relatives over Christmas. 

However, there do appear to be plenty of slots available across the UK for PCR tests for those who test positive on a lateral flow as well as members of their household. 

It comes after the Government announced on December 12 that fully vaccinated contacts of people who had tested positive would no longer need to self-isolate themselves but instead take a lateral flow test each day for seven days.

A huge surge in demand shortly after this statement by Boris Johnson prompted the Government website to say they were 'not available right now' for order.

A woman points at a sign in the window of a pharmacy in North London on Saturday which has run out of lateral flow test kits

A woman points at a sign in the window of a pharmacy in North London on Saturday which has run out of lateral flow test kits

This poster by the UK Health Security Agency is a common sight at pharmacies across the UK

This poster by the UK Health Security Agency is a common sight at pharmacies across the UK

Health experts have also been discussing when is the appropriate time to take the tests as people can change from being testing positive to negative in just 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 can you get hold of lateral flow tests? 

The NHS has a searching tool which allows people to find their nearest pharmacies which have tests available to collect. It is:

Alternatively, people can order a pack from to be delivered to their homes. One pack can be ordered per day.

They can also be collected from community collection points or people can visit a testing point near to their homes.

Contractors offering the 'Covid-19 lateral flow device distribution service' said there was a surge in demand for the kits after the Prime Minister's statement, reported the Pharmaceutical Journal.

On December 14, pharmacy leaders said 'numerous contractors' warned that supplies of the kits at pharmacies were unable to match public demand.

But the UKHSA said yesterday that 'over 11 million test kits [were] sent to pharmacies across the UK' in the week starting December 13 and that the supply chain issue 'is being resolved and normal service will resume shortly'.

A spokesman added: 'There is no shortage of free rapid tests and there are a range of ways that people can get them to help combat the spread of Covid-19.'

According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, an update from Alliance Healthcare on Sunday said 'unprecedented demand for lateral flow test kits from people testing due to the Omicron variant, combined with precautionary 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 had run out of stock.

People trying to book walk-in PCR tests also encountered problems, with some being directed to sites several miles away or being told no slots were available.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, has downplayed suggestions of a shortage, and said requests for lateral flow tests 'have been absolutely astounding', with 'unprecedented demand' for PCR tests.

How accurate are lateral flow tests?

A study by the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Oxford, the Institute for Advanced Studies based in Vienna, and the Medical University of Graz published in July found that lateral flow tests detected more than 95 per cent of the cases found by PCR and correctly identified 89 per cent of cases as negative.

In March 2021, the Royal College of Pathologists said positive results by LFTs should be confirmed by PCR tests and people should self-isolate before they receive their PCR result.

Last week, the Health Security Agency (HSA) said lateral flow tests are as likely to detect Omicron as other variants of coronavirus.

PCR tests are still considered to be the most accurate tests when diagnosing coronavirus but should only be used by people who are showing symptoms.

Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, said issues getting hold of tests laid with distribution, rather than availability.

The Company Chemists' Association (CCA), the trade association for large pharmacy operators in England, Scotland and Wales including Rowlands and Superdrug, said demand had outstripped supply in some areas.

Chief executive Malcolm Harrison said: 'CCA members continue to receive supplies of lateral flow tests but we are aware that in a few areas there have been difficulties as demand outstrips supply, especially in the lead up to Christmas.

'Pharmacies are managing the demand as best as they can and we urge members of the public to be patient at this challenging time for us all.'

A spokesperson from 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 that are experiencing temporary shortages due to higher demand in certain areas'.

Lloyd's Pharmacy said tests were available but there was 'significant demand'. 

Currently, there are no issues with ordering tests on the Government's website.

Lateral flow tests, or antigen tests, are the rapid tests which tell people whether or not they have coronavirus.

Lateral flow tests provide results and tell people in 30 minutes if they have coronavirus by detecting proteins from the virus in the nose and throat samples.

Scientists have mixed views on their accuracy. PCR tests are, however, extremely accurate but take up to three days for results to come through. 

They detect the genetic material from a specific organism, specifically coronavirus, and are the best way to test if you have a current infection.

According to the Royal College of Pathologists, lateral flow tests should be taken by people who do not have symptoms.

A factsheet on the RCP's 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 for picking up additional infected cases who would otherwise be missed because they don't have any symptoms.'

On the NHS website, it also says that people who have symptoms of coronavirus should also complete a lateral flow test rather than a PCR test.

People have also been struggling to order lateral flow tests online (pictured on December 13). Currently, there are no issues with ordering tests on the Government's website

People have also been struggling to order lateral flow tests online (pictured on December 13). Currently, there are no issues with ordering tests on the Government's website

Current advice states that if you test positive on a lateral flow you should follow up with a PCR test.

People are advised to do lateral flow tests before mixing with crowds in indoor places or visiting someone who is at high risk of getting Covid-19.

It's also advised that if you're vaccinated, but have been in contact with someone who then tests positive for coronavirus, you should do a lateral flow test.

On Sunday, Irene Petersen, a professor of epidemiology at University College London, said official advice should be updated to say that people should take the tests just before they are about to meet others due to the fast infection rate of Omicron.

She added that tests results 'expire quickly' as people 'may switch from being non-infectious to infectious within hours'.

Government guidance currently recommends taking a test 'if you will be in a high-risk situation that day'.

Professor Stephen Reicher told BBC Breakfast yesterday that people should be doing lateral flow tests before meeting up with friends and family this Christmas. 

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