The sole distributor of Covid lateral flow tests (LFTs) to pharmacies closed for four days over the Christmas period just as it received a delivery of 2.5m devices, it has emerged.
Alliance Healthcare took delivery of the tests on Christmas Eve and then shut, the Times reported. It provides LFTs to pharmacies to give out to the public.
An update from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents NHS pharmacy contractors, confirmed 2.5m tests had been delivered to Alliance Healthcare on 24 December and added: “That stock was ready to be delivered [on] 29 December when Alliance Healthcare reopened after its planned Christmas break, and it represents circa 357,000 individual packs of seven tests and just over 6,000 cartons.”
Each pharmacy is able to place a daily order for a single carton, containing about 55 packs, each with seven tests, but the surge in Omicron variant cases, guidance to increase the amount of testing and a change to the isolation rules have led to an increase in demand.
People are able to leave Covid isolation early after testing negative, and school pupils are being encouraged to test at least twice weekly when they return to classrooms this week.
This has led many pharmacies to run out within hours of delivery, and there were reports of patchy supplies before Christmas.
Alliance Healthcare said last week there could be “some service disruption across the Alliance Healthcare network” due to Covid-related absence.
The company has been approached by the Guardian but a UK spokesperson told the Times it had closed on 25 December until 28 December, and distribution had resumed on 29 December “when the majority of community pharmacies reopened”.
He said: “Since the start of the pharmacy collect scheme, Alliance Healthcare UK has distributed over 280m lateral flow tests to community pharmacies across the UK. We distributed more than 2m lateral flow tests on Christmas Eve to support a number of community pharmacies that remained open over Christmas bank holiday and where stock was available.
“We continue to distribute around 2m lateral flow tests daily from stock made available to us from UKHSA.”
A UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) spokesperson said: “The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe, with almost 400m tests carried out since the start of the pandemic. We are delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across the country, with over 8m test kits being made available to pharmacies between 29 December and New Year’s Eve.
“We have made 100,000 more PCR [polymerase chain reaction test] booking slots available per day since mid-December and we are continuing to rapidly expand capacity – with over half a million tests carried out on 23 December alone and delivery capacity doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD [lateral flow device] test kits a day. If you have not been able to get the test you need from gov.uk, please keep checking every few hours as more PCR and LFD tests become available every day.”