Sky News has been given exclusive access to a warehouse where millions of lateral flow tests are being stored ready for distribution.
The pictures of the warehouse full of rapid tests are likely to frustrate those who have been unable to get hold of lateral flow devices over recent weeks.
The storage site in Nottinghamshire is part of a giant manufacturing facility run by SureScreen Diagnostics, the first British company to have its lateral flow tests approved for self-use in the UK.
Until now, the government has relied on Chinese suppliers for the rapid tests it provides to households.
One of SureScreen’s directors, David Campbell, explained it has taken around six months to secure approval for their tests from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Mr Campbell said approval was given in November which meant the company could begin packaging up the test kits with official NHS Track and Trace instruction leaflets and prepare them to be sent to pharmacies across the country.
They say that for several weeks now they’ve been dispatching lorries full of tests to national distribution centres, but have been waiting for the official announcement that they have been approved for use. They’ve only started to appear on pharmacy shelves in the last few days.
Mr Campbell said they have “tens of millions” of kits packed up and ready to go.
Asked if he has found it frustrating seeing the national shortage of tests while knowing his company has millions of kits ready for use, Mr Campbell simply said “we just focus on making the best tests we can”.
For people dealing with the shortage, the revelation that millions of tests have been ready for use while they were unable to obtain any will be frustrating.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, says they’ve been asking the government for weeks to step in and increase supply of tests.
She said: “It has been a very difficult time for pharmacists in that for weeks we have been highlighting that the demand is very, very high for lateral flow tests.
“However, the supply is not matching the demand.
“And we’re still in the same situation that many pharmacies are receiving very little, and some pharmacists actually don’t get anything really.”
Some will question why it took so long to get approval for home use for tests that are already shipped for use in over 50 countries and were approved for use by professionals in the UK over a year ago.
Mr Campbell explained: “The regulatory systems are in place to make sure only really high quality products make it to market which is quite right so we’ve had to go through quite a lot of strenuous clinical trials and evaluations of the product to make sure it’s fit for use.”
He’s keener to talk about the massive expansion his company has undergone in order to manufacture the tests.
Already they’re able to produce a million tests a day and are looking to expand further.
The Derby-based company that, pre-pandemic, primarily produced drug testing kits and had around 50 employees, has grown to around 600 staff and opened an enormous production warehouse in Nottinghamshire to enable it to scale up.
“Our capacity has gone up at least five-fold, maybe ten-fold since the start of the pandemic,” Mr Campbell added.
“We’ve also been able to create a high amount of jobs in the local area so hundreds of people from the local area are being brought in now which is great and we’ve gone from running a normal shift to now we’re running 24/7 so it’s important for the local economy as well as the national economy that this work is being done.”
A UKHSA spokesperson said: “Extensive evaluation is carried out on tests designed for home use to ensure they are reliable and accurate.
“Evaluation of this data is part of the regulatory approval process which can take time.”