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'Remote pharmacy supervision could allow flexibility in a crisis'

The option to remotely supervise a pharmacy in a crisis as a last resort could be helpful for pharmacists in some situations, says contractor Mike Hewitson

Whether pharmacies can ever be responsibly supervised without a pharmacist on-site has been a key debate in the sector over the last three years. The controversial issue arose again as a result of the pressures on the sector caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

In March, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) announced that pharmacies could open in emergencies with a pharmacist accessible by video link or phone to enable them to continue supplying medicines. The council stressed that this should only happen when the responsible pharmacist has had to leave unavoidably at short notice and when no locum cover could be secured.

Pharmacy professionals are split on the topic. Mike Hewitson, owner of Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, says that, if carefully managed, the option of supervising remotely could help responsible pharmacists to continue to supply medicines in a crisis.

The decision to have a pharmacist supervise remotely could be used when "there is no other way my patients can access their medicines”, he tells C+D in a podcast.

“If it was snowing outside and not safe to get to work, and I have patients that need medicines, then potentially I probably would be prepared to [remotely supervise the pharmacy] short-term on a very occasional basis. But I certainly wouldn't be happy to do that to, for example, attend a meeting.”

He stresses that “it’s really important we keep pharmacists in pharmacies because it’s a really important part of the service we offer”. If a pharmacist does have to resort to supervising remotely, however, this should be “accountable, transparent and justified”, not a routine action or used as a cost-saving exercise, he says.

Listen to the podcast to hear more from Mr Hewitson on:

  • How the responsible pharmacist should be the one to make the decision on supervising remotely, not a superintendent pharmacist located outside the pharmacy.
  • The importance of having adequate safeguards for remote supervision.
  • The risks of replacing a pharmacist with an AI chat bot.
  • Every incident of remote supervision should be logged with the GPhC.

Please note, the sound quality of this podcast may be affected as it has been recorded remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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