Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this feature article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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Pharmacies across the UK are closing intermittently throughout each day to maintain staff wellbeing and patient safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nick Hunter, chief officer of Nottinghamshire, Rotherham and Doncaster Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPCs), told The Pharmaceutical Journal that he is advising and supporting local pharmacies to close “for as short a period of time” as possible.
For example, “closing a few hours early or having a lunchbreak closure to ‘reset’ and allow staff to take proper safety breaks”, he said.
This comes as Hunter said he had already seen one pharmacy close completely among his LPC areas, although he was still confirming the details around the closure.
However, he warned that if community pharmacy contractors “don’t hear from NHS England about some contingencies around funding and removing bureaucracy in the next 24 hours, pharmacies will start falling over”.
“We need the funding to pay for overtime — to cover staff absences and increased work and increased wholesaler bills due to increased prescribing,” he said, adding that “some pharmacies will not recover from the economic consequences of COVID-19”.
Plans to close pharmacies periodically were echoed in Bristol where Ade Williams, pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy, said in a statement to a local BBC radio station that patients could “see some pharmacies closed during the day”.
“Notices will be up saying when open, but intermittent closure is necessary to allow safe working and full attention to everyone that needs us,” he said in the statement, adding that fewer patients would be allowed into the pharmacy at a time.
Peter Prokopa, chief officer of South Staffordshire LPC, wrote in a newsletter to contractors that “in extremis” pharmacies could be operated behind closed doors “whilst continuing to provide essential services, or working on a basis of only allowing a limited number of patients into the premises at a time”.
He told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the advice was agreed because NHS England Midlands “wanted contractors to have the confidence to manage that locally if they had to by reducing risk and to preserve the staff they have”.
Community Pharmacy Scotland has said it is expecting to agree an interim opening hours policy with the Scottish government that will allow pharmacies to close for a couple of hours each to clean and ”regroup”.
Deborah Crockford, chief officer of Community Pharmacy South Central, described the pressure “as Christmas and Easter combined with the amount of prescriptions that are being requested”.
She told The Pharmaceutical Journal that pharmacies are seeing “an enormous demand” for deliveries with some contractors “receiving a lot of abuse over the phone from people who are demanding prescription delivery, which is completely unacceptable”.
Michael Keen, chair of Kingston and Richmond LPC, said “business has trebled” for his pharmacies, while Michael Lennox, chief officer of Somerset LPC said he has seen prescription volumes double in recent days.
Mohammed Ikhlaq, a pharmacist contractor in Bradford, said on Twitter that allowing pharmacists to work behind closed doors will allow “extra demand to be managed uninterrupted and safely”, as well as allowing “the more urgent work for vulnerable patients” to be prioritised.
Aneet Kapoor, chair of Greater Manchester LPC, said an increasing number of his pharmacies “are looking at what they can be doing behind closed doors to try and keep up with demand and workflow”.
He said this includes installing doorbells “and triaging the need for the use of the pharmacy”.
“If they’ve got a prescription that isn’t urgent, then it’s taken potentially at the door and they’re asked to call back at a specific time,” he said, adding that this “reduces the footfall into the pharmacy but also provides the team with the headspace to be able to get the work done”.