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Jo Churchill: Pharmacy 'better prepared' for second COVID-19 wave

Pharmacy minister Jo Churchill has said pharmacy is "better prepared" to deal with the rising levels of COVID-19, having adapted during the first wave earlier in the year.

With COVID-19 infections rising and England heading into a second lockdown, “we face a very tough winter” Ms Churchill wrote in a letter to pharmacy teams last week (November 5).

However, “we are better prepared now than we were earlier this year”, she said, adding that pharmacy teams “now have the experience of working in a COVID-19-secure environment [and] protecting your staff and patients and local business continuity plans are in place to help.

“Community pharmacies had to adapt early in response to the pandemic to be able to continue to provide medicines and health advice.” The fulfilment of this role is “important under normal circumstances but is of vital importance at this moment,” Ms Churchill said.

 “The actions taken by the Department [of Health and Social Care] and NHS England & NHS Improvement (NHSE&I), and the changes made earlier this year to support your work, will also help us this winter, “ she continued.

The pharmacy minister is “nevertheless talking to frontline community pharmacy staff regularly, together with national bodies for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, about what more we can do to support you”, she said.

The “critical role” of pharmacy

In the letter, Ms Churchill said pharmacies play a “critical role” in the community, and that this had been highlighted by the “exceptional circumstances we are facing as a country”. 

“I remain hugely grateful for the efforts community pharmacy teams continue to make to support all of us,” Ms Churchill said.

She also thanked pharmacy teams for their “incredible job on the medicine’s delivery service for shielded patients”.

“I know how hard you have worked to support your communities by ensuring they have continued access to their medicines and health advice,” she said.

The letter comes after NHSE&I last week (November 4) announced it had recommissioned the pandemic service delivery for a month – from November 5 to December 3 – for “clinically extremely vulnerable” patients who are shielding at home and cannot access their medicines.

Invest in pharmacy

Ms Churchill’s letter has triggered calls from for funding from the sector. The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said in a statement last week (November 6) that while “gratitude from a government minister is always something to welcome and we know that Jo Churchill is sincere in her praise for pharmacy teams, pharmacies are now running on empty and they need more than words to keep them going.”

 “Pharmacies urgently require financial support from NHSE&I to keep the doors open for patients in this current lockdown and beyond”, the NPA said.

Responding to the letter on Twitter, some pharmacy professionals voiced concern about the lack of resources to tackle the virus.

Others urged the government to reverse the funding cuts that continue to affect the sector.

What do you make of Jo Churchill's comments?

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