The UK is thought to be facing a significant shortage of lateral flow tests, with pharmacists reporting that they are being asked for tests “every five minutes”.
Chief executive of the Association Of Independent Multiple Pharmacies Leyla Hannbeck said that the supply of lateral flow tests was “patchy and inconsistent”.
Current guidelines in England allow for the isolation period to be cut to 7 days if LFT tests are taken on the 6th and 7th days are both negative, prompting more people to get the test kits.
As people try and meet up with family and friends for Christmas and New Years celebrations, demand for LFTs has also increased dramatically, with Government ministers encouraging people to get tested before going out. According to the UK Health Security Agency, its delivery capacity has increased to nearly 900,000 test kits each day, double the amount from before the 18th of December, due to the increase in demand.
The reported shortage coincided with a lack of supply of PCR tests on Wednesday morning, with the government website showing low stock across the country and many walk-in PCR testing centres reporting no available slots for PCR tests. Tests became available across England on Wednesday afternoon, though many areas later had low or no availability according to the Government’s website on Wednesday evening.
In a tweet on Wednesday evening, the UK Health Security Agency said: “We are delivering record numbers of #LateralFlowTests to pharmacies across the country, with more kits being delivered in the next few days. We’re also continuing to expand capacity for booking #PCR tests slots online.”
There have also been calls from some health experts to reduce the isolation period to 5 days, as has recently been done in the US, in order to reduce the strain on the NHS caused by health workers’ isolation.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said that some chief executives within the health service think that staff isolating could become a bigger pressure on the NHS than people who need treatment for COVID-19.
Although record numbers of cases are being reported daily, hospital coronavirus patient numbers are currently below January’s peak. Ahead of Christmas, the number of patients in mechanical ventilation beds was also falling compared to earlier in the month.