DH shouldn't force pharmacies to stay open without staff, says NPA

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DH shouldn't force pharmacies to stay open without staff, says NPA

The Government should not force community pharmacies to remain open without sufficient staff, the National Pharmacy Association has said.

The Government’s coronavirus emergency declaration is expiring today, and with it provisions that have allowed contractors to temporarily change their opening hours or to close temporarily having informed the NHS.

In a statement yesterday, the NPA urged the Government and NHS England & Improvement to take a “common-sense” and “pragmatic” approach to temporary pharmacy closures after the emergency powers end, claiming that many pharmacies are struggling with staff shortages.

It warned that forcing pharmacies to stay open without adequate staffing levels could lead to “substandard and potentially unsafe” service levels.

Pre-existing regulations from 2013 still allow for “temporary arrangements during emergencies or because of circumstances beyond the control of NHS chemists” but it is unclear to what extent this may apply to staffing shortages.

Contractor and NPA vice chair Nick Kaye commented: “There has been a big increase in Covid-19 infections among pharmacy staff as well as the general population, exacerbating staff shortages that cannot always be covered at short notice. My own pharmacy is only one of many to be struggling to obtain cover. 

“We need to retain the common-sense option to close if we can’t operate the pharmacy safely due to staff shortages. No pharmacist and certainly no independent pharmacist wants to let their community down by closing unnecessarily.

“But neither should we be forced to offer patients a substandard and potentially unsafe service due to inadequate staffing.”

Mr Kaye said the NPA has asked NHSE&I “to take a pragmatic view in terms of enforcement” in light of the “very real workforce challenges”.

The concerns around staffing shortages were echoed by the Company Chemists’ Association, which said: “We urge NHS England to work with us and the sector to coordinate a comprehensive workforce plan and ensure patients can receive the care from community pharmacies that they have become accustomed to during the pandemic.”

When approached by Pharmacy Network News for information on how it plans to enforce regulations around opening hours, NHSE&I replied that any queries relating to the emergency declaration are a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care. 

For its part, the DHSC told PNN: “As we learn to live with Covid, we recognise the virus is always evolving and we are closely monitoring the situation. 

“We keep all measures under review in the event we need to respond to future threats - including the emergency declaration for pharmacies.”

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