Pharmacy’s part in COVID-19 response must be recognised

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there are stories emerging about how GP workload is becoming more manageable, how there is less reliance on locums, and how the public is being forced into using technology. These changes will shape the future of primary care and I hope pharmacy’s part in this is being articulated.

In my community pharmacy, we have had requests from general practice to treat tonsillitis (we are part of a pilot to do this) and take blood pressure measurements (which we are not yet paid for) because GPs have changed working practices in response to social distancing requirements.

If ever there was an opportunity to call out NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens’s comments about pharmacists “doling out medicines”, it must be now. In response to the pandemic, our workload has gone up astronomically and a sizeable amount of this workload involves triaging patients, with no money changing hands. We have many stark examples of this.

I also hope the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is reshaping its approach to NHS England in light of its disgraceful behaviour towards pharmacy over the past few weeks. In its interactions with NHS England, the PSNC must use everything we have: GPs’ changed working practices; the abuse that we have put up with; the pharmacies that have fallen, which, with correct funding for sensible staffing levels, could have prevailed; and the fact that GPs are sending patients to us that they would have previously seen themselves. Never has our worth, and trust in us, been better demonstrated.

NHS England has never truly valued us pharmacists, but this must be the best opportunity in my lifetime to finally be recognised. GPs will not work with a cut and pegged budget, and neither must we. And if we are asked, we must refuse to take on more work; work that could benefit other sectors (for example, social care, although we can agree with social care leaders that we’ll stand with them on their issues). We cannot allow the pharmacy workload to develop without that £200m at least coming back to pharmacy

We need to put pressure on the non-executive directors of NHS England; I wonder when they have ever challenged the treatment of community pharmacy in England? What made them believe their complicity would not rebound on them when the chips were down?

Why has Scotland, which has similar problems to England, so enthusiastically embraced the skills and accessibility of community pharmacy, culminating in its flagship ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme? Why are Scottish pharmacists urged to qualify as prescribers, yet, in England, willing holders of this qualification, working in the community, are ignored?

The time has absolutely come for a reckoning — the NHS in England needs our skills to improve the health of the English population.

Prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have praised our profession for our part in preventing the NHS collapse since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please tell me we won’t waste this opportunity.


Tony Schofield, contractor pharmacist, Tyne and Wear

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2020, Vol 304, No 7937;304(7937):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207900

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