Lord Bethell response to HDA on COVID-19 Testing (28 October 2020)

Dear HDA members,

Please see Lord Bethell’s written response to the HDA’s letter expressing concern over increasing delays in the COVID-19 testing regime. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Innovation took this opportunity to thank the pharmaceutical distribution sector for its crucial role in ensuring that medicines reach patients, and the HDA for its ongoing work around COVID-19 and in raising important issues with the Department of Health and Social Care.

28 October 2020

Dear Martin,

I was sorry to read about the difficulty members companies of HDA have raised about their getting a test for Covid-19 (Coronavirus). I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate what I set out in my letter to you on 17 June, we appreciate the crucial role of pharmaceutical distribution in ensuring that medicines reach patients. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the HDA for their ongoing work around Covid-19 and in raising important issues with the Department.

We have provided access to testing for millions of essential workers, where they are selfisolating because either they, or a member of their household is symptomatic, and are committed to ensuring all symptomatic essential workers get access to a test.

Essential workers and members of their households, including those working in the medicines supply chain, can access priority testing at https://www.gov.uk/applycoronavirus-test-essential-workers, individuals using the portal can enter their details and will then receive a text or email the same day inviting them to either book an appointment at one of more than 70 drive through testing sites across the country, or receive a home testing kit.  Essential workers can order five test kits for themselves and other symptomatic members of their households. However, for households of more than five, the Contact Centre (119) can raise an order on their behalf. Essential workers remain those which were listed under guidance published earlier in the year, this includes those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributors of medicines, and medical and personal protective equipment. This guidance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested.  

We continue to expand testing capacity doubling the daily COVID-19 testing capacity to 500,000 by the end of October.  We are also increasing the number of testing sites to 500 by the end of October to help ensure everyone who needs a test can access one.  We are also aware of an issue with the booking portal that resulted in some users being directed to

tests sites a long distance from them. This has now been resolved, and we have introduced a travel restriction to receive a test at 75 miles to ensure that this does not happen again.

We are also taking actions to make it clear that only symptomatic people should be accessing tests in order to reduce inappropriate demand, including focused communications across the media and the 119 Call centre, and updating guidance at test sites.

Thank you again for raising this important issue, the continued safe supply of medicines to patients remains a priority and we are grateful to all the efforts being made by your members.

I hope you have found this response helpful.


Lord Bethell

Dear HDA Members,

The HDA’s Executive Director, Martin Sawer, wrote to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Innovation Lord Bethell, relaying concerns from HDA member companies over the cumulative impact of the increasing delays in the COVID-19 testing regime. Mr. Sawer highlighted that the HDA and its members were concerned that if not addressed, this could begin to affect their operational performance and ultimately the certainty that medicines can get to patients as required.

17 September 2020

Dear Minister,

On behalf of the medicines distribution sector, I am writing to express growing concerns from our member companies about the cumulative impact of the increasing delays in the COVID-19 testing regime.  HDA and its members are concerned that if not addressed, this could begin to affect their operational performance and ultimately the certainty that medicines can get to patients, as required.

As you will be aware, our member companies operate over 50 pharmaceutical distribution warehouses across the four countries of the United Kingdom, and as you have kindly acknowledged, their efficiency and business resilience has held up incredibly well in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.  HDA and its members really did appreciate the UK Government’s decision to classify employees in our sector as Key Workers.  This allowed our members’ businesses to operate with much improved levels of staffing and certainty than might otherwise have been the case.  The priority given to Key Workers, both regarding access to schools and the testing regime, was really helpful in allowing management to plan staff rosters and guarantee medicines supplies continued.  To have this certainty now begin to be thrown into doubt, seemingly due to the lack of a testing prioritisation process, is difficult to understand.  We had assumed that all the planning for coping with a potential second wave of COVID would include the type of challenges that we are now experiencing.

HDA is now collecting weekly member company data to quantify the impact on the sector.  So far, the Association has received reports of testing delays for employees at medicines warehouses in Stoke, Chessington, Cardiff, Southampton, Hinckley, Warrington, Gateshead, Norwich and Belfast.  To add insult to injury, some staff in Belfast have been offered testing slots in Scotland for example, and others tests several hours away from their localities.  HDA companies report that these delays in getting colleagues back to work – some waiting at home just for a test for nearly a week – is beginning to have an effect on business operations.

We believe that it must be in the interests of our members’ businesses, patients and the NHS, if we can jointly acknowledge and solve these issues before the situation gets out of hand.  HDA would support testing prioritisation, alongside the clear and public communication of guidance, and would be keen to work with you and your Department to achieve this. I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Yours sincerely,
Martin Sawer

From Factory to Pharmacy

As part of our mission to build awareness, understanding and appreciation of the vital importance of the healthcare distribution sector, we developed an infographic explaining the availability of medicines. It identifies the factors that can impact drug supply, as well as the measures that HDA members undertake day in, day out to help mitigate the risks of patients not receiving their medicines.

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