Pharmacies in Wales will be piloting the use of video consultation software as part of the government’s plans for returning to business as usual following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The use of video consultations was put forward in a letter to pharmacies from Andrew Evans, Welsh chief pharmaceutical officer, in which he notes the “need to move towards a more business as usual approach, albeit with new working practices which continue to contain the spread of COVID-19”.
The letter, dated 22 May 2020, described demand from the pandemic as having “settled” and sets out a “transitional position that relaxes some of the measures we implemented in the initial stages of the pandemic” as well as a “future position” to be implemented “at an appropriate time in the future”.
As part of the government’s transitional position, which took effect on 25 May 2020, pharmacies have been asked to “strongly consider” using set appointment times for consultations through services such as the Common Ailments Service “to minimise unplanned demand”.
In its future position, the letter adds that the government “will support increased use of remote consultations in community pharmacies, including piloting the use of the ‘Attend Anywhere’ video consultation software in pharmacies”.
Pharmacies in Scotland began trialling the ‘NHS Near Me’ video consultation service in mid-May 2020.
However, a spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it had not received clarity from the government on when the pilot would start in Welsh pharmacies.
“CPW fully supports the decision that the Attend Anywhere initiative is extended to the community pharmacy network and would wish to see this happen at pace,” said Judy Thomas, director of contractor services at CPW, adding that initial advice to provide consultations over the phone was “far from ideal”.
Using video consultation software “will allow pharmacists to be able to provide face-to-face consultations again, albeit remotely, which will be useful for services where it is necessary to be able to see the presenting condition or describe the use of medication appropriately”.
Elen Jones, director for Wales at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said she supported plans for remote consultations, adding that the Society would encourage their “rapid introduction and piloting”.
”It is important that the introduction of video consultations, such as the Attend Anywhere service, is fully supported by read/write access to a shared electronic patient record,” she said.
“Such developments will provide increased assurances for pharmacists in making informed clinical decisions, in improving patient safety and in meeting patient expectations of community pharmacy.”
Evans’s letter follows on from an earlier communication sent in March 2020, which set out flexibilities designed to help pharmacies cope with the demand from COVID-19 patients.
These included allowing pharmacies to open one hour later in the morning, close for two hours during the day and close one hour earlier in the evening.
However, the latest update has now asked pharmacies to stop closing early in the evening and to shut for a maximum of one hour during the day.
The Welsh government’s future plans also include considering “the potential benefits of automated vending to support reducing footfall for collection of repeat prescriptions”.