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Pharmacies can apply to temporarily close or change opening hours

Pharmacies in England can apply for permission to close temporarily or make a change to their opening hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, the PSNC has said.

Pharmacies can apply for this as part of emergency provisions under the NHS (Pharmaceutical and Local Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2013.

Contractors must give 24 hours’ notice of the proposed change, but if NHS England does not object to the change or closure within that timeframe, pharmacies can implement it, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said in an update published last week (April 16).

Pharmacies do not have to wait for permission from NHS England to make these changes as long as they do not come into force before the 24 hours' notice they must give the commissioning body has expired.

However, if subsequently NHS England does not approve the request, the pharmacy must re-open or go back to its original opening hours.

Gordon Hockey, director of operations ad support at the PSNC, told C+D last week (April 17) that “reduced staff” or “staff fatigue and exhaustion” could be reasonable causes for making an application for temporary closure, or for a change to opening hours.

“Emergency provisions”

The secretary of state for health and social care has activated emergency provisions within NHS regulations that allow for these measures to be taken.

Under the regulations – in the event that the health and social care secretary declares an emergency – the relevant provisions are “activated” and may be used by contractors. Such an emergency, “requiring the flexible provision of local pharmaceutical services” was declared as of March 27, the PSNC explained.

In addition to temporary closures and changes to opening hours, the provision for temporarily relocating premises has also been activated.

The emergency has currently been declared until July 1, the PSNC guidance states, and in cases where contractors need to apply for a relocation of premises, NHS England can only grant these applications up until that date.

An example of where this provision might need to be used is where a pharmacy is co-located with a “GP hot-site treating COVID-19 patients”, meaning pharmacy patients are no longer able to access it safely, the PSNC said.

“Depleted workforce”

Contractors can also close temporarily “if prevented from opening by reason of illness or other reasonable cause", according to the PSNC guidance. Where this is used, NHS England must be notified, but the closure does not require its permission.

Mr Hockey told C+D that some contractors are already using the provisions for temporary closure.

“Some of the big multiples are giving notice of closures for a number of pharmacies. You’ve got a pharmacy team workforce, but because it’s so depleted you can’t run all of your pharmacies, and so you give notice,” he said.

“What’s helpful about it [the provisions is that contractors] give 24 hours’ notice and can act as long as NHS England don’t object  – and from their [NHS England’s] point of view, they will know that they only have to do something if they want to object to it.”

What do you make of these new emergency provisions?

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