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COVID-19: Very busy pharmacies can close for extra 2.5 hours a day

Pharmacies in England that are “under significant pressure” due to the COVID-19 pandemic can close to the public for up to 2.5 hours a day, including lunch, NHS England has said.

These measures can be introduced “at the discretion of the responsible pharmacist”, NHS England said in a COVID-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) for community pharmacies, which was updated yesterday (March 22).

“All pharmacies will be expected… to be open to the public between 10am and 12 noon and 2pm and 4pm as a minimum if these are contracted hours”, NHS England said, while “100 hours pharmacies should be open from 10am–12pm and 2pm–6pm as a minimum”.

Pharmacies need to display a sign with the pharmacy’s contact details on the door when closed to help patients get in touch “if urgent help is needed”, NHS England said.

Communicate closures

When pharmacies cannot open “due to unavailability of a responsible pharmacist, or enough staff to open safely”, they need to inform NHS England “immediately”, the document stressed.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said it understands that pharmacies might need to close their doors to the public to prepare prescriptions and ensure staff can take breaks.

“If an NHS pharmacy decides that it needs to close for a period of time, they need to follow local NHS reporting and notification procedures and make clear to the public how long they’ll be closed for and where the nearest other pharmacy is,” GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin said in a statement published today (March 23).

Lloydspharmacy

Lloydspharmacy announced last week (March 20) that its branches will open one hour later than usual in the morning, will close for one hour at lunchtime and “will close for the last hour of the day, which is typically between 5pm-6pm”.

Following NHS England’s announcement yesterday, the multiple said it adheres to the opening times stipulated by the commissioning body and is “pleased” that other pharmacies will be following suit.

A spokesperson told C+D today (March 23): “We play a critical role in providing medicines to those who need them most and we want our teams to take a proper break at this busy time so they can continue to help care for their communities.”

COVID-19 pressures

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, the Company Chemists' Association, the National Pharmacy Association, and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies welcomed the updated COVID-19 guidance.

They said the changes “should help to ensure that pharmacies can stay open to the public, and that staff can work safely and are not fatigued by the current high workload and pressures associated with the outbreak”.

According to an “increasing number” of reports received by the GPhC, pharmacy teams are often experiencing “abuse, disorder and even violence at the hands of some of the members of the public”.

Mr Rudkin stressed: “Abuse of pharmacy staff is never acceptable. Pharmacy is a key part of the national response and its workforce ia entitled to be treated with the same respect as other key healthcare professionals.”

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. All levels of pharmacy professionals are needed.

Do you welcome NHS England's update to the SOP?

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