Sandwell issues letter over concerns about lateral flow testing availability

Sandwell Council leader, Councillor Kerrie Carmichael and Sandwell cabinet member for adults, social care and health, Councillor Suzanne Hartwell today issued an open letter to the Secretary of State over their concerns about lateral flow testing kit availability.

The letter states that the council believes it to be vital that the national supply of lateral flow tests is able to meet the demand created by both the number of cases and Government policy on the use of lateral flow testing.

The letter also highlights the council’s agreement with government advice of the importance of taking lateral flow tests before we mix with people in indoor places or meeting with someone who is clinically vulnerable.

However, it notes that prior to New Year’s Eve, the council was aware that many people were unable to pick up tests from their local pharmacy.

Given the rapidly rising COVID-19 rates and the potential for virus transmission at New Year’s parties, this came at the worst possible time for people who were simply trying to take appropriate precautions.

The Sandwell Public Health Team responded with emergency measures including travelling around Sandwell themselves distributing lateral flow tests they had available to some local pharmacies.

However, at the time of the writing of the letter, there are still many reports that local people are once again unable to source lateral flow tests.

Sandwell is also calling for more notice of any shortages in test supply in future, which would better enable local teams to generate and implement local solutions.

A full copy of the letter is available below:

Dear Secretary of State, I am writing to you to act urgently to ensure an adequate supply of lateral flow tests for the residents of Sandwell. As you know, Government has emphasised the importance of taking lateral flow tests before we mix with people in indoor places or meet with someone who is clinically vulnerable. Sandwell residents have demonstrated throughout the pandemic that they are willing to play their part in keeping themselves and each other safe, and we are grateful to them for that. However, Sandwell Council’s public health team was made aware prior to the New Year’s Eve celebrations that many people were unable to pick up tests from their local pharmacy.

Given the rapidly rising COVID-19 rates and the potential for virus transmission at New Year’s parties, this came at an extremely difficult time for people who were simply trying to take appropriate precautions and was during a period where high demand must surely have been predicted. Due to lack of supplies from Government, Sandwell Council stepped in to deliver lateral flow tests to local pharmacies.

This was an emergency measure to fill the gap left by the national suppliers of tests to pharmacies, and it meant that many more people in Sandwell were able to check their COVID status prior to New Year’s Eve celebrations than otherwise would have been the case. We were assured that the supply to pharmacies would be running as normal again after New Year. However, at the time of writing, we are still receiving many reports that local people are once again finding local pharmacies unable to provide lateral flow tests. Test have also been repeatedly unavailable via the Government website.

For example, yesterday (4th Jan 2022) tests were only available for order between 08:05 to 09:17,12:13 to 13:25 and 17:14 to18:11 (Source: UK LFT Alert).

This sporadic supply will make it difficult or impossible for our residents to follow Government guidance on testing or Public Health teams to fight back against the pandemic. This is also having a wider impact on the ability of all our partners to deliver services.

There have been numerous reports, both national and local, of pharmacy staff having to deal with anxious and frustrated members of the public who have visited the Government website and been given a code to pick up tests, only to find on arrival that no tests were available. You will be aware of the vulnerabilities of care home residents and recipients of domiciliary care, and lack of adequate testing is a cause of great concern to them and their loved ones. In the light of the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday evening that lateral flow tests will continue to be central to the national COVID response, I hope you will agree that it is vital that the national supply of lateral flow tests is able to meet the demand created by both the number of cases and Government policy. In addition, we are not being alerted about lack of supply and this is adding to the pressure on our hard-pressed services.

We would ask for more notice of any shortages in test supply in future, which would better enable our local staff to generate and implement local solutions. We understand that a key supplier of lateral flow tests to pharmacies,

Alliance Healthcare, took possession of 2.5m tests but then closed on a “planned Christmas break” leaving those tests unavailable to the wider system at the very time they were most needed (The Guardian, 3rd Jan 2022). This could have been avoided or, at the very least, been communicated to local systems ahead of time. Sandwell Council has supported national efforts to deal with Covid-19 throughout the pandemic. For example, we were one of the first local Councils to provide a local contact tracing service to support the national Test & Trace system and have recently won a national Public Health award for our support to the NHS vaccination programme. Councils across the country have made similarly played their part in providing critical services that have supported the work of the NHS and saved many thousands of lives. However, sporadic supply, lack of planning and poor communication have made this much harder than it should have been. We would therefore ask you for clear action to support us. Please give us your assurance that Government will:

• Ensure supplies of lateral flow tests are urgently delivered where they are needed

.• Advance notice is given about lack of supply

• All efforts are made to ensure continuity of supplies in the months ahead

We would appreciate your swift response to this matter that we know you will agree is of the utmost importance an

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