Pharmacists in Palma. | Ultima Hora

Health Minister Salvador Illa has asked the Autonomous Communities within the Inter-territorial Council of the National Health System or CISNS to make Covid-19 tests available at pharmacies.

Minister Illa says the plan must include aspects related to personnel, personal protective equipment, records and facilities so that pharmacies can perform the coronavirus screening tests properly.

He also warned that there is a debate about legal reservations and professional groups.

The Government, the Community of Madrid and the Catalan Government have all demanded that antigen tests be performed in pharmacies. The Catalan Government also defended the professionalism of pharmaceutical staff, despite alleged reluctance on the part of Nurses and Public Health experts.

Community Vice President, Ignacio Aguado said on Monday that he intended to ask Minister Illa to address the possibility at a meeting of the Covid-19 Group, which Minister Illa is reportedly open to but no date has been set.

The Covid-19 Group coordinates between the Central Government and the Regional Government weekly, to address which measures are required to combat the second wave of coronavirus. At the October 27 meeting it was agreed that the meetings would become more technical with the possibility of “reconvening when the epidemiological situation so requires.”

Isabel Díaz Ayuso has repeatedly insisted that antigen testing be done at Madrid’s network of more than 2,800 pharmacies and stressed that “the professionals are trained, guarantee safety and hygiene and the results can be communicated to the Madrid Health System."

The Regional Government says widespread testing and rapid diagnosis are key factors in managing the second wave of coronavirus. In the Community of Madrid more than 3 million tests have been carried out since the pandemic began and an average of 190,000 are performed each week.

The objective of this initiative is that all Madrileños will be able to take a free antigen test before they go to see their relatives at Christmas said Vice President Aguado on Tuesday.

Health Minister Enrique Ruiz Escudero admitted that carrying out antigen tests on the 6.5 million people in Madrid will be complicated.

The Regional Government has invested heavily in antigen tests, and has carried out several initiatives at national and European level in order to obtain authorisation for this form of testing.

Ayuso wrote to the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen to request the tests and the General Director of Inspection & Health Management, Elena Mantilla wrote to the Spanish Agency of Medicines & Health Products, or AEMPS requesting them.

The Madrid Government argues that coronavirus tests are already being performed in pharmacies in European countries such as France, Portugal and in the UK as well as the US, Australia and Canada.

It also stresses that pharmacists are professionals involved in health education and trained to perform analytical tests, such as glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride, HIV and pregnancy tests.

Regional Health Minister Alba Vergés said on November 16 that the Government is working with the network of pharmacies in Catalonia so that they can also perform antigen tests and anticipates a framework document stipulating the conditions required to ensure safety.

But Dr Fernando Simón, Director of the Coordination Centre for Health Alerts & Emergencies or CCAES has warned that Covid-19 antigen testing can cause inconvenience in pharmacies.

"These tests require a sample and in order to guarantee its quality, it can’t be done by just anyone," said Dr Simón, who also pointed out the "problems" of competence when taking samples and reading the results as well as who may or may not go to the pharmacy for a test.

Antigen tests are less accurate but they offer the advantage of faster results compared to other diagnostic tests such as PCRs which are over 90% reliable, or serological tests which are not fast and don’t detect the virus but they do detect the presence of antibodies.

The Xunta in Galicia launched a pioneering project last October to carry out voluntary rapid tests in pharmacies in five Municipalities, including Ourense, Barbadás, O Carballiño, Verín and O Barco and anyone who tested positive was given a PCR test.