Recent assurances for pharmacies on the use of volunteers to provide services only apply to issues of misconduct rather than insurance claims or damages, lawyers have said.
In a joint statement issued earlier this week, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and General Pharmaceutical Council welcomed the community pharmacy pandemic delivery service, which facilitates the use of volunteers such as NHS responders to bring medicines to patients being ‘shielded’ as they are at high risk from Covid-19.
“Pharmacy professionals acting in accordance with the standards and using NHS volunteer responders in good faith in line with the service specifications of the pandemic delivery service will not be regarded as responsible for actions of other people outside of their control,” the statement read.
“We would like to express our thanks to all pharmacy teams for their hard work and making sure that people continue to receive their medicines, and to the volunteers for offering to help pharmacy teams during the pandemic.”
While many have welcomed volunteers as a means of relieving pressure on pharmacy teams, concerns have been raised around potential patient safety implications and the extent to which pharmacies may be held responsible for any incidents.
The Pharmacy Law and Ethics Association (PLEA) said yesterday that the GPhC/RPS statement that pharmacy professionals will not be held responsible for the conduct of volunteers “relates to misconduct, not claims for damages”.
On its website, PLEA said the statement “might be understood to mean that if a volunteer was negligent or committed some other tort, a pharmacy professional would not be held liable to compensate an injured party.
“The question of any such liability is a matter of law for the courts to determine on the facts of any given case, so despite the broad wording, the joint statement is best regarded as limited to questions of professional conduct and fitness to practise.”
Some pharmacy insurance organisations, including the NPA, have said their policies will cover any issues arising from the use of volunteers, providing the pharmacy has adhered to all laws and regulations.
Additionally, a document issued by NHS England & Improvement on April 3 states that volunteers sourced by NHS trusts to help deliver clinical services are protected under the Coronavirus Act 2020.
However, some in the pharmacy sector have called for greater clarity on the legal protection offered to pharmacies, such as whether indemnity is in place when local volunteer groups are used rather than NHS responders.