The Pharmacist’s Defence Association (PDA) has called for better oversight of community pharmacy opening hours after freedom of information (FOI) data showed closures during contracted core hours of working.
The PDA said members had raised concerns about some multiples sharing a pharmacist between two sites, with at least one closing during normal hours of business.
FOI responses from ASDA, LloydsPharmacy, Morrisons, Rowlands, Superdrug, Tesco and Well found an estimated 5,878 closures in the previous 12-month period when they would normally be open to the public.
Boots said it did not hold the data centrally, but from figures reported to the NHS, the PDA estimated that there had been 220 closures of Boots pharmacies in contracted hours during the period in question.
Well reported 2,215 closures between November 2016 and November 2017 in its 582 branches.
The PDA said that in some circumstances it may be appropriate to close the pharmacy on patient safety grounds, but more should be done to look at reasons behind the closures to check for “common themes”.
It also raised the question of whether there was “a lack of resilience and insufficient rigour in the system” to ensure the public can access pharmacy services at a time they expect.
“If patients can’t access pharmacy services at the times specified in their NHS contracts, it calls into question the effect on patient safety and care,” said a statement from the PDA.
The PDA added that there seemed to be “little consequence at an organisational level for failing to open to the public during NHS contracted hours”.
“We would like to see better oversight and control in relation to such issues, and a more detailed investigation into the root causes of pharmacy closures.”
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said the association was unable to comment on the circumstances for each of the reported “estimated” closures.
“We know how much people rely on community pharmacy services, and are confident that any decision to temporarily close a pharmacy is always made as a last resort, and in the best interests of patients, staff and customers,” he said.
“We also recognise that because of the way in which the sector is currently regulated, there are circumstances in which pharmacies are unable to legally operate in the absence of a pharmacist.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “Where pharmacies close or temporarily suspend service provision within normal opening hours, they can do so within the terms of the regulations for emergencies outside of the contractor’s control.
“They are not considered to be in breach of their terms of service if they make this notification as soon as is practical, and make all reasonable efforts to resume service provision as soon as is practicable.”