Pharmacy organisations are backing UK prime minister David Cameron’s vision for a seven-days-a-week service for the NHS in England but only if the move is underpinned by money and manpower.
Cameron reiterated his commitment towards a full seven-days-a-week NHS on a visit to the West Midlands on 18 May 2015. In a speech at a GP practice, he said the expansion of weekend working would be dependent on staff working more flexibly, not working longer hours.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) says that hospital pharmacy services have to be properly funded and have sufficient staff if the government wants to provide seven-day services.
“There is all this focus on more doctors and nurses and the need for consultants but in hospitals you need the whole infrastructure, which includes pharmacy,” says David Branford, chairman of the RPS English Pharmacy Board. “If you want pharmacy to work weekends at a similar pace and reach to what happens during the week then there are significant manpower resource issues.”
Relying on community pharmacies with 100-hour contracts to provide weekend cover is also unrealistic, says Branford, because their location and hours may not suit local needs. “You would have to make sure that there is a coordinated and comprehensive out-of-hours resource available,” he adds.
The Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) says few trusts will be able to introduce a safe seven-days-a-week NHS pharmacy service unless more money is made available.
“The GHP is supportive of the move towards seven-day services as long as they are implemented with adequate funding,” says the guild’s immediate past president Dave Thornton. “The danger is that the move will come without any additional funding and there will be real pressure to implement such developments at zero cost – i.e. spread what you currently have to provide a service five days a week over seven days.”
Thornton adds that nursing organisations have been stirred up because the extension in services may to some degree be paid for by removing the unsocial hours uplift that is paid to staff who work on Saturdays and Sundays. “Currently the main group of staff that this would affect are the nurses,” he points out. “It would have an impact on pharmacy staff moving to new contracts that include working at weekends as they would not get the uplift.”
Speaking alongside Cameron, NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens said he was confident the proposals in his Five Year Forward View would provide a sustainable NHS provided there were properly integrated health and care services and that people took more responsibility for leading healthier lifestyles.
Stevens said he would reveal how the NHS will meet £22bn of efficiency savings later in May 2015. He hinted that areas being considered include procurement, employee training and the use of agency staff.