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Temporary closures: Scottish health boards should take over ‘failing pharmacies’, PDA suggests

Health boards in Scotland should be given powers to “take over failing community pharmacies and absorb them into the NHS”, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has suggested.

It follows the union’s concerns that rising numbers of temporary pharmacy closures could “inconvenience and sometimes distress” patients, “particularly when they need access to their vital medicines”.

It would be “wholly appropriate” for health boards to place pharmacies in “special measures”, if they have repeatedly been subject to temporary closures, the PDA said.

Such arrangements can currently be applied to entire health boards or GP surgeries that fail to meet certain requirements, it pointed out, and there is “no reason why this approach should not also be applied to failing pharmacies”.

On top of taking temporary closures into account, these sanctions could also consider “the condition of a pharmacy, the staffing levels and a variety of other factors too, such as the range of services offered” to ensure continuity of pharmacy services and that “pharmacy staff are retained and continue to deliver the services as NHS employees”, the PDA said.


Temporary closures


According to PDA freedom of information (FOI) requests to NHS Scotland health boards, a “minimum of 574 [temporary pharmacy] closures” occurred across the country between June 1 and August 31.

In July alone, there were 338 reported temporary closures, 331of which were pharmacies owned by large chains including Lloydspharmacy, Boots, Well, Rowlands and some supermarkets, the PDA revealed today (December 13).

Only seven occurred in Scottish-owned pharmacies, the PDA added.

According to the PDA’s data, Lloydspharmacy branches accounted for 56.6% of reported closures, and Well pharmacies 26.5%. The PDA did not share a breakdown of the data for the other multiples.

LloydsPharmacy told C+D that it "cannot substantiate the data" shared by the PDA.

"It is widely acknowledged that there is a sector-wide shortage of pharmacists in Scotland, and across the whole of the UK; this has been raised by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Scotland and by the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA)," it continued. "We are working with the NHS and other community pharmacy operators to address the issue facing the industry.”

Well Pharmacy pharmacy superintendent Ifti Khan said: “Community Pharmacy is experiencing significant challenges which are impacting on pharmacist availability. We are working hard as a sector to resolve them as quickly as possible.

"The government has recently added pharmacists to the Home Office’s Shortage Occupation List recognising the situation."

C+D has contacted Boots and Rowlands for comment.

The subject of temporary pharmacy closures has come up repeatedly in recent months. In August, Lloydspharmacy superintendent Victoria Steele wrote for C+D that the multiple only adopted a “part-closure policy” as a “last resort” when it could not find a pharmacist to cover shifts.

It followed an internal investigation at the multiple, after claims on social media in March that Lloydspharmacy had opted to temporarily close some branches despite locum cover being available.


“Significant numbers” of concerns


“Significant numbers of pharmacists” have raised concerns with the PDA about temporary closures in Scotland, the union said, with some locums reporting that they were available to cover shifts at certain pharmacies, only to subsequently find out that the pharmacy company had chosen to close those branches instead.

Surveying PDA members uncovered other issues preventing locums from accepting shifts at some pharmacies, including “poor working conditions… insufficient staffing levels and underinvestment in premises”, the union claimed.

“The vast majority of pharmacies in Scotland do not experience these difficulties,” the PDA said.

“However, we are also told that those who continue to open risk being overwhelmed by the workload that transfers from those pharmacies that have closed on that day, impacting their patients and service too.”

Community Pharmacy Scotland director of operations Matt Barclay said: “These figures highlight current workforce challenges in pharmacy, which are multi-faceted and complex.

“We have been engaging with stakeholders including members, Scottish Government and health board colleagues on ways to support the pharmacy network to continue to deliver vital pharmacy services to the public which, by and large, they have carried out with distinction in recent times.”


A shortage of pharmacists?


Last month, the CCA said that an increase in both temporary and permanent closures would be “unavoidable” due to what it referred to as a shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

However, the PDA refuted that the shortage of pharmacists was “serious enough to justify the level of closures evident in the FOI responses”.

“The independently owned and smaller local pharmacy chains in Scotland are staying open, and therefore are able to secure the services of enough pharmacists,” it said. “These pharmacies are often located in the same towns as the branches of the UK-wide companies which are being closed.”


Is there a shortage of community pharmacists? Join our next Big Debate on this topic on the C+D Community this Wednesday, from 7pm.



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