Urgent need for protection and funding for pharmacies during the Covid-19 outbreak

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This is started as a DESPERATE plea to our governing bodies (GPhC/RPS/PSNC/PHE) and the government. Community Pharmacies are struggling to manage with the COVID-19 crisis.

Although almost never recognised, we are front line health workers. Most GP practices have closed their doors with video/phone appointments only, NHS 111 services have a 1.5 hour wait. This leaves patients going to pharmacies with all conditions, including the persistent dry cough and temperature they should be self-isolating with.

Public Health England decided to send each pharmacy 50 masks, 200 gloves and some aprons to use. However instruction for use in our SOP from NHS England is clear: this is only to be used if we come into contact with a suspected infected patient... ie when it is too late. There are no masks available for us to purchase to protect ourselves. 50 disposable masks supplied with an average pharmacy team of 7. This will last 1 week if we try to protect ourselves. Posters and words are NOT ENOUGH.

On a regular month, we dispense around 4000 prescriptions. That’s roughly 3000 patient interactions. It is not even the end of the month yet and we have already had 6000 prescriptions this month, averaging around 5000 patient interactions. Of those many will be Covid-19 positive. We do not have the space in our pharmacies to ‘distance by 2 metres’ especially in our consultation rooms. We do not have guidance for ‘contactless’ prescription delivery or collection services. Remember that’s 5000 patient interactions while we are supposed to be ‘socially distancing’. 

We have seen our prescriptions grow 3-fold in the space of a week. This will only get worse. This brings rise to issues such as increased workload pressure, financial pressure and a huge risk of dispensing errors, especially at a time when many staff members can easily fall victim to this indiscriminate virus and require isolation.  

Considering we get paid for our NHS prescriptions 2 months after the dispensing month, our wholesale bills are going to leave majority of pharmacies struggling or unable to pay their bills. Funding is desperately needed to keep community pharmacies afloat. 

We are doing our best to provide a delivery service for the most vulnerable but once again this is purely good will. No payment is received for doing these deliveries and we do not have the staffing levels to be doing deliveries, safely preparing medicines, helping with other ailments. There needs to be extra guidance and outside help to allow us to protect the most vulnerable and especially the elderly who otherwise are forced out their homes to collect their lifesaving medication. 

I have to add that the abuse pharmacies are receiving for the price of medication is also despicable. All paracetamol products for general sale are in short supply. When they are available they have gone up in price from our wholesalers. We cannot control wholesaler prices, we can only try to keep prices as low as possible which ALL self respecting pharmacies are doing. Please make people aware of this and please speak to wholesalers about their pricing. It is not just paracetamol, prices of medication have been increasing at an unreasonable rate for years. Why are the FCA not monitoring them? It is becoming a regularly occurrence that we dispense medication at a loss. 

This is a plea for more protection for pharmacies and their staff. We also ask for financial/physical help to continue to provide medication to our communities safely, to purchase these medications and of course to provide delivery services to those who need it most. We also ask you look into the price of medication from ALL wholesalers. We are burning out and exhausted, this is just the start of the UK’s COVID-19 curve. However, we still have not close our doors FOR YOU. We need help. 

Finally, my prediction: community pharmacy will not be around after this crisis without any extra significant funding and intervention, call me Nostradamus.