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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Community pharmacists will not be automatically included in a new government life assurance scheme for healthcare workers in England who die from COVID-19 during the pandemic, The Pharmaceutical Journal has learned. Announced on 27 April 2020 by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the scheme will pay £60,000 to families of “eligible workers who die from coronavirus in the course of their frontline essential work”.
The Pharmaceutical Journal understands from the DHSC that while the scheme could apply to community pharmacists in exceptional circumstances, the scheme is mainly intended for those providing direct hands-on care to patients with COVID-19 — or working in environments where COVID-19 is known to be present in patients.
A DHSC statement announcing the scheme said it would cover “frontline staff” employed by NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups, and GP practices.
It said: “The scheme is aimed at those who die from coronavirus during the course of their essential and lifesaving work. This includes those providing direct care, as well as cleaners and porters who continue to carry out vital duties in these care environments.”
Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said that the government should urgently reconsider its position regarding the life assurance scheme.
“We know that pharmacies are seeing a huge surge in demand as one of the few places keeping their doors open to the public,” she noted.
“People may not display symptoms of COVID-19 and so it’s hard to see why the scheme should be limited to healthcare environments where the virus is known to be present.”
Gidley added that “the vast majority of frontline pharmacy teams can’t maintain social distancing from staff or patients, and aren’t always able to access the personal protective equipment they need.”
The scheme only covers England, but money will be provided to the devolved administrations to implement the scheme if they wish. The Welsh government has said it will run the same scheme as England, and a decision has yet to be made in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The RPS has contacted the governments in England, Scotland and Wales to ask them to clarify that this scheme will extend to all pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and support staff.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has written to health secretary Matt Hancock asking for “urgent clarification that this scheme will cover all those workers on the frontline, whether or not they are directly employed by the NHS”.
Paul Day, director of the PDA, said: “We think anyone who understands what community pharmacists actually do will understand that they are a critical part of the health service. We would like to see a precise definition of who is in this scheme, and we think community pharmacists should be in. Fair criteria would include community pharmacy.”