Britain’s pharmacies are experiencing a shortage of lateral flow test kits due to a crisis in supply chains. This is following an unprecedented rush by customers for supplies before Christmas.

More than 11million test kits were sent out to pharmacies last week – double the number in the previous week – but this was not enough as many Britons are taking to social media to complain they still cannot not find a pack anywhere locally.

Some pharmacies posted signs in their stores stating that they are temporarily out of stock. However, people struggle to order tests online.

This ‘unprecedented demand’ has been further intensified by those who want to test themselves before visiting or staying with their relatives during Christmas. 

There are plenty of slots in the UK that can be used for PCR testing for people who have positive lateral flows. 

After the government announced that people who have tested positive for polio will no longer be required to seperate, but would instead undergo a lateral flow testing each day over seven days.

The Government website stated that they are ‘not currently available’ due to a huge demand following the Boris Johnson statement.

A woman points at a sign in the window of a pharmacy in North London on Saturday which has run out of lateral flow test kits

One woman looks at the sign posted in the North London pharmacy’s window on Saturday. It states that they have run out of lateral flow testing kits.

This poster by the UK Health Security Agency is a common sight at pharmacies across the UK

A common sight in pharmacies around the UK is this poster, which was created by the UK Health Security Agency.

Experts in health have been discussing the best time for the test, as results can quickly change between positive and negative within hours.

The UK Health Security Agency said that pharmacies throughout England had received record numbers of lateral flow test results during the week ending December 13.

Is it possible to obtain lateral flow tests from the laboratory? 

There is a search tool that the NHS provides to help people find nearby pharmacies offering test collection. It is:

People can also order a pack to be delivered directly to their home. You can order one pack per day.

These can be taken to community collection points, or they can be brought by people who live near a testing site.

The ‘Covid-19-lateral flow device distribution services’ were offered by contractors, according to reports in the Pharmaceutical Journal.

Dec. 14th, pharmacy executives stated that “numerous contractors” warned pharmacists that they were not able to supply the required kits in time for public demand.

The UKHSA however, stated yesterday that there were “over 11,000,000″ test kits [were]sent to all pharmacies in the UK” during the week beginning December 13, and stated that the supply chain problem ‘is being solved and normal service will be resumed shortly.

Spokesman for the organization added, “There are many free quick tests available and people can use them in a variety of ways to combat the spread Covid-19.”

Alliance Healthcare updated the Pharmaceutical Journal on Sunday to say that there has been an ‘unprecedented’ demand for lateral flow testing kits by people suffering from the Omicron variant. It also added precautionary testing in the lead up to Christmas.

Last week people complained that they were unable to place lateral flow tests orders on the NHS website. Meanwhile, posters advertising outage at pharmacies stated that stock was running low.

People who tried to book walk-in PCR test results also had problems. They were either directed to locations far away from their homes or told there was no availability.

UKHSA’s chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries, dismissed any suggestion of a shortage. She said that requests for lateral flow tests have been absolutely astonishing’ and there has been ‘unprecedented demands’ for PCR testing.

Are lateral flow measurements accurate?

The Queen Mary University of London, Oxford University, the Institute for Advanced Studies based out of Vienna, and Medical University of Graz conducted a July study that found that lateral flows detected over 95% of cases identified by PCR. They correctly identified 89.9% of these cases as negative.

Royal College of Pathologists in March 2021 stated positive results from LFTs should always be confirmed using PCR tests. Individuals are advised to self-isolate any PCR test results.

According to the Health Security Agency, (HSA), lateral flow testing are just as effective in detecting Omicron viruses as they are for other types of coronavirus.

While PCR tests still represent the most reliable tests in diagnosing coronavirus infection, it should be only used for people with symptoms.


Sir Chris Wormald is the permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care. He stated that getting test results laid out with distribution was more important than their availability.

The Trade Association for Large Pharmacy Operators in England and Wales (CCA) said that demand exceeded supply in certain areas.

Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of CCA said that although members continue receiving supplies for lateral flow tests, we know there has been some difficulty in certain areas as supply exceeds demand especially during the Christmas period.

“Pharmacies are handling the demand as best possible and we ask members of public to be patient during this trying time for us all.

Boots spokesperson said that the chain offers lateral flow testing at over 2,100 UK pharmacies, but that there may be some stores experiencing temporary shortages because of higher demand in particular areas.

Lloyd’s Pharmacy indicated that there were tests available but they had to be ordered. 

Ordering tests online is possible at the moment.

The rapid test that determines if someone has coronavirus is the lateral flow or antigen tests.

The results of lateral flow tests are quick and can tell people if they have coronavirus. They detect proteins in their noses and throats and let them know if the test is positive.

Scientists are divided on the accuracy of PCR tests. Although PCR tests have a high accuracy, they can take three days to show results. 

They can detect genes from specific organisms, such as coronavirus. This is the most reliable way to find out if you are suffering from an infection.

The Royal College of Pathologists recommends that people without symptoms should undergo lateral flow testing.

According to the RCP website, these tests differ from PCR. These tests aren’t suitable for diagnosing patients with symptoms who believe they might be infected.

A PCR test is required for people with symptoms. Lateral flow testing is used to detect additional cases of infection that may not have symptoms.

The NHS website also states that coronavirus symptoms should be confirmed by a lateral flow rather than a PCR.

People have also been struggling to order lateral flow tests online (pictured on December 13). Currently, there are no issues with ordering tests on the Government's website

It has also proved difficult to order online lateral flow tests (image: December 13). Ordering tests online is possible right now.

According to current advice, if you have a positive lateral flow test you need to follow-up with a PCR.

It is recommended that people do lateral flow tests prior to mixing with indoor crowds, or visiting anyone who may be at higher risk of contracting Covid-19.

You should also do a lateral flow testing if you have had contact with anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Irene Petersen is a Professor of Epidemiology at University College London. She stated that Omicron’s rapid infection rate meant people need to take tests before meeting others.

The results of tests can be discarded quickly, as individuals may become infected or non-infectious within hours.

Current government guidance recommends that you take a test “if your situation is high-risk”

BBC Breakfast’s Professor Stephen Reicher said yesterday that everyone should do lateral flow tests prior to meeting with family and friends this Christmas.