Temporary pharmacy closures in England are “relatively infrequent”, and many are just for a “matter of hours”, the chief pharmaceutical officer for England has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.
The comments come after the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) reported that it had received more than 50 reports of community pharmacies temporarily closing at short notice in Scotland during one week in August 2021, leading to calls for these pharmacies to face ‘special measures’.
In his first pharmacy press interview as chief pharmaceutical officer for England, The Pharmaceutical Journal asked David Webb how concerned he was about reports of temporary community pharmacy closures.
He responded that such closures in England were “still relatively infrequent relative to the majority of the service offering” from the information he had.
“But I don’t think we should take that for granted. I think we need to understand what the drivers are.
“There are opportunities to intervene if some of those closures do not appear to be for appropriate reasons. And the [local NHS England] teams take those seriously.”
Webb added that he thought the majority of closures lasted just a matter of hours, “as opposed to complete closures”.
“I know it’s played out in a sort of lens that relates to pharmacist availability,” he continued.
“Again, it’s about the whole team, isn’t it? It’s about having a skilled team able to support you and an effective operation.”
Paul Day, director of the PDA, responded to Webb’s comments by saying that “unnecessary” community pharmacy closures were a “patient safety issue”.
“The PDA receives concerns from pharmacist members concerned about their patients due to these occurrences,” he said.
“The PDA also believe that such unnecessary closures damage the reputation of pharmacy, undermine the chances of higher priority funding from governments, and discourage new entrants to the profession/existing practitioners from choosing to work in the sector.”
Gordon Hockey, director, legal, at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said the PSNC “would be glad to work with the chief pharmaceutical officer to help explore what the drivers behind temporary closures are”.
“We are being contacted by contractors of all sizes who are struggling with the current workforce situation in community pharmacy,” he said. “Our Pharmacy Pressures Survey earlier this year found that, across all affected pharmacies, more than 800 working days were lost in just one month due to unexpected closures. Cutting back on services or the pharmacy’s opening hours are last resort measures that paint a bleak picture for the future, but independents and multiples alike are worried about both the availability of pharmacists and about rapidly-inflating locum rates.”
Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said community pharmacies must report closures to their local NHS team by “well-established processes”.
“NHS organisations monitor closures, look for patterns and take action if appropriate,” she added.
“Furthermore, there are existing regulatory mechanisms in place through which the [General Pharmaceutical Council] can take action if community pharmacies or individual pharmacists do not meet professional standards.”
Govind added that pharmacists must do everything they can to maintain pharmacy services for patients, but added that this must be balanced against ensuring services are safe.
“Pharmacy services which are closed are unable to help patients at all; but neither are pharmacies with unsafe working conditions,” she said.
Gareth Jones, director of corporate fairs at the National Pharmacy Association, said: “It’s clear that the community pharmacy workforce is very stretched and this situation is not helped by the NHS subsidising pharmacist roles in general practice.
“Any further recruitment under such schemes should be subject to an assessment of the impact on the ability of community pharmacies to provide NHS services.”
- This article was updated on 21 September 2022 to include comments from Gordon Hockey, director, legal, at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee