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Pharmacists backlash against ‘key workers’ list

Pharmacists have voiced their disappointment on social media that a list of “key workers” published by the Department for Education failed to mention the profession directly.

The list was published today (March 20) and recognises professionals whose work is considered “critical to the COVID-19 response” and whose children “will be prioritised for education provision” while schools are closed.

This comes as the government announced earlier this week that schools will close from Monday (March 23) but that they will need to provide for “children who are vulnerable” or whose parents’ work is crucial during the pandemic.

However, while the list of professions considered vital to responding to COVID-19 specifically mentions “doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers [and] care workers”, it does not directly refer to pharmacists or their teams. Instead, it mentions “other frontline health and social care staff… working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson confirmed to C+D today that “other frontline health and social care staff” does incorporate pharmacy teams. “Pharmacists and staff fall under this definition as key workers”, the spokesperson said.

“Wider definition”

This definition was met with disappointment by some pharmacists, who shared their views on Twitter.

Pharmaceutical Service Negotiating Committee (PSNC) CEO Simon Dukes said the government “settled on [this] wider definition” to refer to all community pharmacy workers and “pharmacy drivers, staff in wholesalers, distributers”.

The government’s definition “does, however, demonstrate the value of the dispensing and supply of medicines at a time of [a] national health crisis – something that has arguably been undervalued by governments in the past – and that can only be a good thing for our sector”, Mr Dukes added.

The Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK president Liz Fidler said community pharmacy staff does have a crucial role to play in coping with COVID-19 and that she felt this would be emphasised more in the future

Letter to headteachers

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president Sandra Gidley wrote an open letter today to headteachers on the role of pharmacy staff as “key workers” during the pandemic.

In the letter, Ms Gidley said the list of so-called key workers “includes children of parents who work in health and social care, which covers pharmacists and their support teams”.

The organisation added in a tweet that NHS England has agreed to include pharmacists in future communications “about key workers” by the end of today.

Due to COVID-19, workers across UK pharmacy are under great pressure right now. If you would like to find out how you can help, take a look at current vacancies in and around your location at All levels of pharmacy professionals are needed.

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