More than 1,500 packs of tests have been delivered to desperate pharmacies across the borough, giving residents across the borough access a seven-day box of LFTs.
The LFTs were part of a previous stock of tests distributed to faith, voluntary, and community organisations across Sandwell during the winter period.
Dr Lisa McNally, director of public health at Sandwell Council, said: “A number of local pharmacies made us aware that their supply of LFTs had run out and that they weren’t expecting to receive new stocks today.
“The public health team hold a small stock at West Bromwich Town Hall which they distribute to voluntary, community and faith sector groups.
“Rather than have that stock unused while pharmacies turn people away – we shared some of this supply with several local pharmacies, making sure they covered each of Sandwell’s six towns.
“This stock is kept for one purpose and is all needed. The immediate need has switched in the next 48 hours.
“It’s important to be clear that we don’t hoard lots of LFTs for no good reason. Apparently the national system should be able to provide LFT tests again soon.
“Luckily, we had a stock that we distribute to voluntary and community groups. So rather than those boxes sitting in our stores unused while pharmacies were turning people away, we shared the love.”
Councillor Suzanne Hartwell, cabinet member for adults, social care and health, said: “I want to say a big thank you to colleagues in our public health team who have been doing their bit to help out today given the growing demand for lateral flow tests. It’s been a really great effort supporting local pharmacies and the local community.”
A spokesperson for Sandwell Council added: “With growing demand for lateral flow tests over recent days, colleagues in our public health team have been doing their bit today to help by delivering more than 1,500 packs of tests to a number of Sandwell pharmacies.
“It’s always good to book ahead if possible but you should just be able to collect while current stocks last.”
It comes as the parallel lack of PCR tests, which are supposed to be used by people with symptoms to check whether they have the virus before socialising, is adding to demand of the already rare LFT’s.
In the UK, 183,037 new people had a confirmed positive test result as of 29 December. Between 23 December and 29 December, 914,723 people had a confirmed positive test result – an increase of 41.4% compared to the previous seven days.
Coronavirus rates have soared in the West Midlands, with 2,493 testing positive in Birmingham. 654 people in Sandwell, and 838 in Dudley have tested positive as of 29 December.
While Omicron has been described as a “milder” form of coronavirus compared to the Delta variant, it is unclear from data how mild, or how much it varies from the other variants.
It is understood that over Christmas itself, care homes struggled to access PCR testing kits via the 119 number they are instructed to call by government. A recorded message told them at one stage that no more kits would be available until mid-January, although the issue has been partially resolved.
As infection rates soar, the numbers are also having knock-on effects within the NHS workforce, which faces growing absences. Staff were today unable to access PCR tests, despite being classed as essential workers.
Meanwhile, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, has warned MPs he may need to “constrain” the Covid testing system over the next fortnight, as demand for lateral flow kits surges.
Ministers have repeatedly encouraged members of the public to test themselves using a lateral flow device (LFD) before attending gatherings or meeting vulnerable relatives.
However, test kits have repeatedly been unavailable online in recent days, and many pharmacies have complained of being unable to secure them.
In a letter sent to MPs on Wednesday evening, Javid acknowledged the intense strain being put on the system as cases of the Omicron variant continue to increase.
“In light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day,” he wrote.
Javid reiterated the advice that the public should take a test “when engaging in activities that carry the greatest risk, and before coming into contact with people at risk of serious illness”.
He said MPs should suggest that constituents unable to source testing kits online or find any at their local pharmacist, should, “see whether their local authority is distributing tests” or seek them out at local community facilities, such as libraries.
“I would like to thank your constituents for their continued understanding and patience during this unprecedented time,” he wrote.
A spokesman for the UK Health Security Agency said: “The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe with almost 400 million tests carried out since the start of the pandemic.
“We are delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across the country, with almost 8 million test kits being made available to pharmacies between today and New Year’s Eve.
“We have made 100,000 more PCR booking slots available per day since mid-December and we are continuing to rapidly expand capacity – with over half a million tests carried out on 23 December alone and delivery capacity doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD test kits a day.
“If you have not been able to get the test you need from gov.uk, please keep checking every few hours as more PCR and LFD tests become available every day.”