There has been one question that we have asked over and over again during the past month:
“DO YOU HAVE ANY LATERAL FLOW TESTS?”
For months we have been able to order lateral flow tests from our suppliers, that is the same suppliers that deliver usually twice a day (once on Saturdays) our order of prescription medicines, devices, dressings etc. The size of our daily order/delivery of dispensary stock can vary. If we have a lot of prescriptions for a lot of medications that we do not have at hand on our shelves – the order is bigger. I guess the average is two-four boxes, but sometimes we have a delivery of six or more boxes of medicines etc.
When we ordered a carton of lateral flow tests (which has around 56 smaller boxes each containing 7 lateral flow tests) it would be brought by the same supplier bringing the dispensary order, and for most of the year, that carton would last around three or four days.
Until December. As the demand increased, we found that one carton of 56 test kits was not lasting a day. So we tried to order more cartons. Our suppliers explained we were not allowed to order more than one carton a day, because there is not space in the delivery vans to accommodate more than one box per pharmacy. We understood that. Do you think our customers could understand that?
There was no shortage of lateral flow tests waiting in warehouses, but unless they find another way of transporting them (during a time we know there is a shortage of drivers) the logistics of supplying enough boxes to meet a demand caused partly by people just wanting to test before seeing family during the holidays, and partly by a media ignited wave of panic – it made it seem like a crisis. A crisis it was not.
Then the media started reporting that there was a national shortage of lateral flow tests and that no pharmacies had any. That was not accurate. But it did seem to start a wave of panic (just like the paracetamol crisis, alcohol gel crisis, toilet paper crisis, and the fuel crisis) and now we found even more people rushing in to ask for lateral flow tests. Now one carton was only lasting an hour.
We told our customers about the gov.uk web page for ordering kits to be delivered to your home address. They told us there were none available. I have found that a few times myself, but I have been still able to order test kits for me and my family by being patient and persistent. I understood from official sources that again there was no shortage of test kits, but the logistics of getting them delivered was a challenge. All year the Royal Mail have been delivering them. But during December, probably the busiest time of year for the Royal Mail, the demand exceeded the capacity. I saw news reports saying that other delivery companies were going to help out with this challenge (even though they are probably working extra hours during December as well).
So….we did something that we don’t really like to do….but it seemed to be the most sensible option. We put up signs that read:
Do you think that worked? If I had a penny for every time someone had approached the counter and said, “I saw the sign, but I was wondering if you do actually have any test kits?” I would be a wealthy man.
Why would we do that? Do you think we are twisted? The sign disappears for an hour a day when we do have tests, and our customers come in and take one, and then presumably send a WhatsApp message to everyone they know, because we have a sudden rush that clear us out within an hour. Then the sign goes back up on the counter until our delivery the next day.
Yes….it is a crazy time for Pharmacy teams. Trying to keep up with prescriptions when we spend so much time on the counter responding to enquiries about lateral flow tests has been bizarre. I am hoping it settles now that the holidays are out of the way. In the meantime, I just ordered a box from the gov.uk web page. So if you really need tests kits, please try to order them online to be delivered to your home. Most pharmacies will be closed today.