Employers should take note of the “challenging situations” facing pharmacy professionals over the winter if official complaints are made about them, a joint letter from professional regulators and government and NHS bodies says.
The letter, sent on 19 December 2022 to pharmacy teams around the UK, was co-signed by Duncan Rudkin and Trevor Patterson, chief executives of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI), respectively, as well as the chief pharmaceutical officers of the four UK nations.
“Everyone working in pharmacy is continuing to experience high and sustained demands and pressures, and exceptional challenges such as group A streptococcus infections, during this very busy winter period,” the letter says.
“We want to express our gratitude for your continued professionalism and hard work, and your efforts to provide the best possible services to patients and the public.”
Recognising that staff may have to make some “difficult decisions in the months ahead”, the letter also offers reassurance over fitness-to-practice (FtP) referrals.
“In the unlikely event that you are referred to your regulator, they will consider the context you were working in at the time,” it says, going on to emphasise that it expects employers, educational supervisors, professional bodies and national health and social care organisations to take circumstances into account.
In November 2022, the GPhC had reported that it received the highest ever quarterly number of FtP concerns between July and September 2022.
“These concerns tend to be about delays in medicines being dispensed, lack of stock and unanticipated pharmacy closures and could reflect the significant pressures being faced by community pharmacy,” GPhC council papers said at the time.
The letter was sent amid strike action in other parts of the NHS, with nurses in some parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking action over pay on 15 and 20 December 2022, and staff at some ambulance trusts in England taking similar action on 21 and 28 December 2022.
Some hospital pharmacists who are members of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) were balloted by Unite, the GHP’s parent union, on potential industrial action in November 2022.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association, which has more than 7,000 NHS-employed pharmacists among its membership, is to survey its members to gauge views about possible strike action over NHS pay.
In a statement issued on 19 December 2022, the PDA said it would ask its members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who are employed on NHS Agenda for Change contracts, whether they would be in favour of strike action. A subsequent ballot would be needed before any industrial action could be taken.