Whilst we acknowledge the immeasurable service our clinicians and carers are delivering at the moment, I’ve also become concerned about our pharmacy staff who are also on the front line of healthcare in Lancaster and Fleetwood. They too are dealing with some huge challenges in protecting the health of their local communities, ensuring that their patients and the public continue to have safe and timely access to medicines, providing public health information and giving advice to minimise the spread of this virus. Many pharmacists feel this vital work is going unrecognised by the Department of Health and Social Care, the body that contracts pharmacies to work on behalf of the NHS.
To that end, Community Pharmacy Lancashire have begun their “Care for Your Pharmacy so that Pharmacy Can Care for You campaign to support pharmacists and their teams in caring for local communities throughout this crisis.
I’ve also been told that there have been many reports of pharmacy staff being abused by members of the public – they have been shouted at, suffered verbal abuse and in some cases spat at. In a survey carried out by Community Pharmacy Lancashire, 35% of respondents said they suffered one incidence of abuse per day, with 30% quoting more than three times a day. This is not something that should or can be tolerated.
The network of pharmacies in Lancaster and Fleetwood have seen a huge increase in the demand for medicines, advice and giving reassurance. As we know this is an extremely challenging time for everyone by many pharmacists say they are reaching the limits of their resources and stamina, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain continuity of service to patients and the public.
Pharmacies are in general small premises found very close to the populations they serve and small premises make social distancing both for their staff and patients/ customers very difficult, meaning people have to queue outside. Their teams have not received adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), and are expected to obtain and pay for further supplies via their wholesaler network, with a promise that they will be reimbursed sometime in the future.
Many pharmacies are small businesses who were experiencing cash flow problems due to real-term cuts in pharmacy funding and rising costs and this pandemic has made the situation worse. Pharmacies have had to pay up front for the extra drugs they’ve needed to buy to meet the increased demand, pay overtime for their staff to keep up with the increase in dispensing activity, and for the PPE measures they have had to put in place to protect their teams such as perspex screens.
A cash advance equating to £300m (£200m in April and £100m in May) has been released to contribute to the increase in the pharmacies bills for all this unplanned activity. This equates to £17,500 per pharmacy. However, there are reports of wholesaler bills going up by £30,000.
The next time you get in touch with your pharmacy – please thank them for all they are doing – they are a bit like an invisable emergency service that often goes overlooked whilst in reality they are working very hard to protect people and save lives
I have written to the Department of Health asking Ministers to urgently provide pharmacies with adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing for staff and the financial assistance to meet their cash flow needs.
In the meantime, I’m deeply grateful to all those who put themselves at risk working in our communities to keep us safe and I send you my heartfelt thanks.