Changes to COVID-19 testing after 6th November 2023

New changes to the process of accessing free lateral flow tests for immunocompromised people have been announced. This blog will outline what you need to know.

Webpage last updated: 3rd November 2023

We are aware that some patients are experiencing difficulties in finding pharmacies that will provide free lateral flow tests to those that are eligible. This is because not all pharmacies have opted into the scheme. Unfortunately, there is no official list of pharmacies that have opted in available online, so we are unable to advise on where is offering tests in your specific area.

If you are struggling to find free LFTs, we would advise you to call around some of your local pharmacies to prevent unnecessary travel. To find out what pharmacies are located near you and their contact details, please follow this link: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/pharmacy/find-a-pharmacy

What are the changes to accessing lateral flow tests (LFTs) in each UK nation?

Up until now, eligible immunocompromised people in the UK could access free lateral flow tests (LFTs) by ordering them via the government website or by calling NHS 119. However, the method of accessing free LFTs is changing in each UK nation.

In England and Northern Ireland, instead of ordering online or over the telephone, free LFTs can only be picked up by eligible people or their representatives at a pharmacy. Each pharmacy has to opt-in to this free LFT scheme, so unfortunately some pharmacies may choose not to provide free LFTs.

In Scotland, eligible patients will be able to order free LFTs via the NHS Scotland website here.

In Wales, patients should still be able to order LFTs via the UK Government website here beyond the 30th of November 2023. In January 2024, Wales will then switch to the same pharmacy scheme currently in England and Northern Ireland. Free LFTs will then only be available to be picked up from pharmacies that opt in to the scheme.

We will continue to update this blog as we receive more information from each UK nation.

What do I need to bring with me to the pharmacy? 

When a patient or representative goes to collect LFTs at their pharmacy they will need to confirm their eligibility by one of the following methods:  

  1. Bringing an NHS letter confirming eligibility (i.e. diagnosis letter);
  2. Having a discussion with the pharmacist about your medical history, confirming you have a qualifying condition;
  3. The pharmacist can refer to their pharmacy records if they have previously seen and made record of a patients’ letter confirming eligibility.

Can I send someone else to collect LFTs on my behalf? 

Yes, a patient can send a representative to collect free LFTs from the pharmacy on their behalf. This could be a friend, relative or carer, for example. This person will have to prove your eligibility for free LFTs in the ways outlined above. 

 If you do not have someone who can go for you and you are unable to go yourself, then you may be able to book a volunteer responder by calling 0808 196 3646. 

Some pharmacies may be able to deliver test kits. Please discuss this with your local pharmacy if this is something you would prefer. 

What if my pharmacy is not ready to provide LFTs by the 6th November? 

Most pharmacies have sufficient stock of tests and are prepared to offer this service from 6th November onwards. However, in case there are any delays the current GOV.UK website and NHS 119 telephone ordering services will not immediately close on 6 November in order to facilitate a smooth transition. 

Who is eligible to get LFTs?

There have been no changes in who can access free LFTs, the only changes are how you access them, as outlined above.  

Free LFTs are provided to the same cohort as those who are eligible to receive COVID-19 treatments. This is because providing a positive test is necessary to receive treatment for COVID-19, so LFTs are made available for free to people eligible for treatment in order to facilitate this.  

Here is a recap of the haematological malignancies which make people eligible for COVID-19 treatment and therefore also for free LFTs. 

  • Allogeneic HSCT (stem cell transplant) recipients in the last 12 months or active graft versus host disease (GVHD) regardless of time from transplant 
  • Autologous HSCT recipients in the last 12 months 
  • Individuals with haematological malignancies who have received CAR-T cell therapy in the last 24 months, or radiotherapy in the last 12 months 
  • Individuals with haematological malignancies receiving systemic anti-cancer treatment (SACT) within the last 12 months.  A full list of what counts as SACT can be found here on pages 11 and 12. 
  • All people who do not fit the criteria above, and are diagnosed with: 
  • myeloma (excluding MGUS) 
  • AL amyloidosis 
  • chronic B-cell lymphoproliferative disorders (chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, follicular lymphoma) 
  • myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) 
  • chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML) 
  • chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) 
  • myelofibrosis 
  • Individuals with non-malignant haematological disorders (for example, aplastic anaemia) receiving B-cell depleting systemic treatment (for example, anti-CD20, anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) and alemtuzumab) within the last 12 months 

For a full list please see the relevant NHS guidance here. If you are not sure if you are eligible, please ask your healthcare team. 

Friends, family and carers of the vulnerable are not entitled to free lateral flow tests.  

If you have any questions regarding this blog, please contact our support team at support@leukaemiacare.org.uk or call our free helpline on 08088 010 444 (services available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm).

Left to #WatchWaitWorry

Join our Left to #WatchWaitWorry campaign and help us to improve the support offered to patients on Watch and Wait.

Read More