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COVID-19: Contractors report drop in prescription volumes

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a concerning drop in footfall and dispensing volume, contractors and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) have warned.

AIMp chief executive Leyla Hannbeck told C+D last month (July 31) that many of the organisation's members have reported a “drop in the level of prescriptions presented in pharmacy over the past months compared to same time in previous years”.

Contractors connect this development to COVID-19, naming factors including reduced footfall as patients are not visiting community pharmacies due to the pandemic, GPs running a reduced number of surgeries, doing fewer home visits and carrying out more remote consultations, as well as an absence of prescriptions from dentists.

“Reduced access to primary care as a result of COVID-19 has added demand pressures to primary care”, Ms Hannbeck said. This may in turn affect the “long-term welfare of patients, as people may delay investigations, avoid referrals and procrastinate contacting their surgeries because of the difficulties in gaining access to face to face [care]”, she warned.

"AIMp is looking into this matter further, carrying out analysis and putting together a model in regard to what this means [for] monthly income versus operating costs in a typical pharmacy and will be sharing this with members accordingly,” she said.

“Supplying medicines and clinically checking prescriptions is an important part of community pharmacy activities,” Ms Hannbeck added.

Dispensing drop could have “devastating effect”

C+D spoke to three pharmacy team members who had all noticed a drop in prescription levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A contractor at an independent pharmacy chain who wishes to remain anonymous, said the drop in prescription levels could have a “devastating effect on the community pharmacy network”.

“If we start to see a much more significant drop in volume then some pharmacies are just not going to be viable,” the contractor told C+D yesterday (August 18).

To prevent pharmacies from closing, the government needs to “have a completely new look at pharmacy funding,” they said.

The same contractor told C+D that patients are turning to online pharmacies to avoid the risk of visiting their local pharmacy in person. Pharmacies based at health centres are also missing out on patients, as the GP surgeries they are attached to are doing more remote consultations, which means fewer walks-in for the pharmacies, the contractor added.

A team member at a different pharmacy told C+D earlier this week (August 17) that  there have been “very few walk-ins” since lockdown and suggested the reason could be that “the media has scared people half to death”. Patients “would rather be ill at home than risk catching a virus”, as the “news has drummed into their heads” the dangers of venturing out, they said. With fewer customers, "my days are long", the team member added. 

A pharmacist based in Scotland reported “next to no walk-ins” in their branch. Their pharmacy has been operating at “50% of normal” and there is “no end in sight” due to GPs remaining closed, they told C+D on Monday (August 17). 

Have you experienced a drop in prescription volume?

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