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‘COVID-19 could be devastating for pharmacies without government help’

The government must take action to ensure community pharmacies survive the COVID-19 pandemic, says contractor Stuart Gale

The industry can’t take another hit. We have no fat left in the system. Pharmacies are private businesses and they simply won’t be able to survive this next crisis unless something drastic is done to protect them.

We need the government to step in and say that it will take action to protect community pharmacy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We have already seen some movement from the Competition and Markets Authority in relation to retailers who were seen to be profiteering, but it must go further than that. We need to see the same strong position in response to wholesalers.

Medicines prices have spiralled out of control. At the beginning of March, paracetamol tablets were selling at 80p for 100 tablets. Two weeks later, the price had risen to £4.97 for the same product.

Pharmacies have been instructed to set up an isolation room on site, for people visiting the pharmacy who are suspected of having COVID-19. No additional funding has been provided for this. And what if a patient does come in who may have the virus? With symptoms akin to the common cold, how are we to manage them effectively?

Colds and coughs are the norm in our line of work. If every pharmacy in the country were to shut down in response to a patient entering the premises with symptoms of a cold or a cough, the entire infrastructure would collapse.

Pharmacies are on the frontline in the battle to contain COVID-19. Patients need to understand how to manage their symptoms without going into a pharmacy. The internet has a valuable role to play in this crisis. Pharmacy teams can provide essential advice on their websites or over the phone to those who are being asked to self-isolate.

The public needs clear instructions, such as:

  • Manage existing conditions carefully by taking your regular medication
  • Get your flu jab if you haven’t already
  • Don’t go into a pharmacy if you are exhibiting symptoms or have been in contact with someone who is
  • Use legitimate online pharmacies for your medical needs.

While the government is taking proactive steps, it is not going far enough. Just look at the recent rationing that has been put in place by retailers, driven by people stockpiling, despite all the advice against doing so.

Without adequate financial and logistical support, this crisis will be potentially devastating for surviving bricks-and-mortar businesses. The implications are clear. Without community pharmacies, more patients will revert to using other parts of the NHS for the treatment of minor ailments, putting even more pressure on a service that is already at breaking point. We need help now to protect the long-term future of our community pharmacies.

Stuart Gale owns the Frost Pharmacy Group in Oxford and Oxford Online Pharmacy

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