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How can pharmacists and pharmacy teams help refugees from Ukraine?

The NPA’s Jasmine Shah shares some advice for pharmacists and pharmacy teams on how best to support refugees from Ukraine with their local healthcare needs

As the tragic situation in Ukraine continues to unfold, the impact is increasingly being felt closer to home here in the UK.


Over the next few weeks, this country will welcome thousands of refugees fleeing the war. The UK has already issued 29,200 visas to Ukrainians with family ties to the UK, while nearly 200,000 people have expressed an interest in hosting refugees through the Homes for Ukraine programme.


What could this mean for pharmacies here and how can the UK’s pharmacists and their teams best support those facing such personal tragedy?



How can pharmacy teams help?



The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) advice line has taken numerous calls from members asking about how to help Ukrainian refugees to access their medicines and medical treatment, which local support organisations to signpost to, and whether it is possible to offer work to refugees with healthcare skills.



Read more: Russia-Ukraine war: UK pharmacies and wholesalers mobilise to aid civilians



According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DH), all Ukrainians arriving in England will be able to access NHS healthcare free of charge, including GP and nurse consultations, hospital services, and urgent care centres. They will also be offered COVID-19 vaccines and medical screenings.


Refugees and asylum seekers have access to the NHS even without ID, confirmation of address or immigration status, and the government has a migrant health guide available with a language interpreting and translation guide.



Pharmacy toolkit



The NPA has worked alongside the humanitarian charity Doctors of the World and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to create a pharmacy toolkit, which provides a set of resources for pharmacy teams to help hard-to-reach groups that can include refugees, asylum seekers and the homeless.


This toolkit is focused on how pharmacies can deliver an open access vaccination clinic, but it also has lots of useful information about being inclusive and reassuring those vulnerable groups who don’t have an ID or a GP.


The NHS has produced a leaflet aimed at refugees and asylum seekers on how to register with a GP that could be made available at your pharmacy. Some people may not be familiar with the role of a GP, community pharmacy, and the primary care system.


Taking time to explain what the role of primary care is (eg to provide non-emergency healthcare, manage long-term health conditions, deliver health checks, provide prescriptions, deliver vaccines and screening, refer to specialists, etc) may encourage registration.


Ukraine is not an European Economic Area state. Therefore, a prescription originating from Ukraine cannot be dispensed in the UK, nor can emergency supplies of medicines be made through community pharmacies at the request of a Ukrainian prescriber or the patient themselves.


As of April 1, it is not yet clear what the position will be in relation to the NHS prescription charge and how pharmacists will administer any exemptions. We are actively seeking clarification on this from NHSE&I and the DH.


The General Pharmaceutical Council, meanwhile, is encouraging any Ukrainian pharmacy professionals who want to register in Britain to contact them for advice and support. It promises that the registration team will be as flexible as possible when considering individual circumstances, including financial difficulties, obtaining documents or other challenges.



Donating medicines



Another frequently asked question to the NPA team has been about donating medicines to Ukraine as part of the humanitarian relief effort. Transporting medicines from the UK requires a number of permits and can be logistically complex and expensive.


Therefore, unless you are in a position to donate large volumes of medicines and/or have your own international distribution channels, our advice to pharmacy teams wishing to help is to donate money to reputable charities instead.


The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasises that all donated medicines should be obtained from a quality-ensured source and should comply with quality standards in both donor and recipient countries. Additionally, unwanted/patient-returned and short-dated/out-of-date medicines should not be supplied.


WHO highlights some issues which present themselves when medicines have been donated in wrong selections and quantities, leading to situations in which stocks could not possibly be used within their remaining shelf‐life and therefore require costly and inconvenient destruction procedures.


You may wish to approach International Health Partners (IHP), which is a well-established organisation working in partnership with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to transfer medicines to war-torn countries. IHP generally receives stock from manufacturers, however it may be possible to establish a donor technical agreement between the pharmacy and IHP where the transfer of prescription-only medicines and pharmacy medicines to Ukraine is then managed.


You might wish to consider donating to the Disasters Emergency Committee, which is a coalition of humanitarian charities that has already raised over £100m. The UK government donated an extra £20 million as part of its UK Aid Match scheme.


Another well-known charity specialising in emergency support is Medecins Sans Frontieres, which provides medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from healthcare.


The NPA recognises that there are other humanitarian crises that some of our members wish to help address, such as the desperate situation in Afghanistan. Most of the organisations listed in this article will also accept donations for these other crises.


NPA members can contact the association's Pharmacy Advice and Support team for further advice and support on 01727891800 or email: [email protected]


Jasmine Shah is head of advice and support services at the NPA.

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