Pharmacies should be permitted to conduct COVID antibody tests, says NPA

16 Oct 2020

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is calling on Public Health England (PHE) to iron out discrepancies in its guidance on Covid-19 antibody testing, which currently bars pharmacists from conducting the tests.

The NHS itself is now offering antibody tests to a limited population (in England this is people working in adult social care), with the patient taking a finger prick blood sample themselves at home.

Community pharmacies should be allowed to offer tests as long as they comply with the relevant devices regulations as set out by Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), says the NPA.

NPA board member, Olivier Picard, said:

“We now have a situation where members of the public can take a sample themselves in their own home and find out whether they have Covid-19 antibodies, but a qualified pharmacist cannot administer a test within a registered pharmacy. This inconsistency makes no sense and its time Public Health England updated its guidance to catch up with the facts on the ground.

“Many people want to have Covid-19 antibody tests, in order to understand what has – and has not – happened in their body. In particular, people who have experienced ill health in recent months can use an antibody test to determine whether the symptoms they experienced might be due to the effects of Covid-19. A negative result could in turn lead them to ask themselves whether there is an underlying health problem unrelated to coronavirus, and seek professional help if necessary.

“Community pharmacists are well placed to give the right personal advice and support following a test, and to reinforce Covid-19 public health messages. Pharmacists would remind anyone testing positive that a positive test result does not mean you are immune from the virus.

“What’s more, these tests can help the NHS learn more about who’s had the virus and how it has spread.”

The current view by PHE is that there is no evidence to support the suitability of rapid point of care tests for diagnosing COVID-19 infection in a community setting, which is disputed by the NPA. Apparently taking its lead from PHE, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) says that it is not appropriate for community pharmacies to recommend rapid antibody test kits.

The NPA has been in discussions over the course of the last four months with DHSC, MHRA, GPhC and PHE and a number of test manufacturers about antibody testing in community pharmacy.