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Revealed: No open investigations into temporary pharmacy closures in Scotland

There are currently no open investigations into pharmacies in Scotland for closing their premises at short notice, 12 of the country’s 14 health boards have confirmed to C+D. 

It comes despite concerns over increasing reports of temporary pharmacy closures across Scotland.

Of the 14 health boards contacted by C+D, 12 responded to questions about closures in their locality and the measures they are currently taking to minimise the impact these closures have on patients.


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


The boards that responded include: NHS Ayrshire & Arran; NHS Borders; NHS Fife; NHS Forth Valley; NHS Grampian; NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde; NHS Highland; NHS Lothian; NHS Orkney; NHS Shetland; NHS Tayside; and NHS Western Isles.

NHS Lanarkshire health board said a freedom of information request would have to be submitted to retrieve the information C+D asked for. NHS Dumfries and Galloway did not respond to C+D's requests for comment by the time this article was published.

In December, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association called for health boards in Scotland to be given powers to “take over failing community pharmacies and absorb them into the NHS”, after its analysis found a “minimum of 574 closures” had occurred across the country in just three months.


“Few formal consequences open to health boards”


Craig McArthur, director of East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, told C+D yesterday (May 12) that “a number of pharmacies are currently experiencing difficulties with staffing levels affecting both pharmacists and support staff” within Ayrshire and Arran.

This is due to “COVID-19, general sickness, or holidays”, he said.

“We do not treat these instances as investigations, but provide support to the pharmacy concerned,” he added.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for NHS Grampian told C+D while it is not currently investigating any pharmacies for temporary closures, its “process” is currently being updated, which “includes the review of what sanctions pharmacies may face”.


Read more: ‘The unpalatable message for pharmacy owners on locum bookings and temporary closures’


However, a spokesperson for NHS Highland said: “There are few formal consequences open to health boards” that can be used against pharmacies closing their premises at short notice.

“Ultimately, the board may decide to revoke a contract. However, this could have consequences for the healthcare of the local population. Reputational consequences in the local community are most likely,” they added.


How are boards minimising the impact of temporary closures?


In an exclusive interview with C+D earlier this year, Scotland’s chief pharmaceutical officer Alison Strath said that while temporary pharmacy closures in Scotland “feels like a messy area right now”, it is vital to “really try and understand what [is] causing it and therefore how we can work to effectively to address it”.

A spokesperson for NHS Grampian told C+D that “all pharmacies” within the locality are aware of the procedures in place when an unplanned closure is required.

This includes “buddy pharmacy arrangements, signposting to [the] nearest pharmacy” and the “contacting of daily patients”, they added. Closures logs are also “regularly updated to monitor incidents in Grampian and identify any trends”.

While in NHS Lothian, a memorandum of understanding, agreed “at the outset of the pandemic”, a spokesperson told C+D, allows “temporary deployment of a health board-employed pharmacist until the contractor can secure pharmacist availability”.


Read more: Scotland’s CPhO on ‘messy’ temporary pharmacy closures and building on COVID-19’s legacy


Meanwhile, statements from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Fife, NHS Highland and NHS Tayside confirmed that they each “work cooperatively” with pharmacies in their locality and remain in “direct dialogue” with pharmacy managers and contractor companies to identify branches at risk of closure at short notice.

“When this does happen, we contact GP practices, our clinical leads and other service providers to make sure people are suitably informed and patients are not left without pharmaceutical care,” NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde told C+D.

A spokesperson for NHS Highland said that in remote areas, “where patient care would be severely compromised...we risk assess the potential for assistance from managed service pharmacists”.


No contractual action “unless absolutely necessary”


Eight health boards – including NHS Lothian, NHS Tayside, NHS Shetland, NHS Orkney, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Highland, NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Grampian – confirmed that they remain in “regular contact” and “work very closely” with Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) to raise awareness among contractors of potential consequences.


Read more: NPA: Keep temporary pharmacy closure flexibility while pandemic ongoing


However, a spokesperson for NHS Orkney and NHS Shetland told C+D that while pharmacies found to be in breach of contract would face “possible contractual action”, the board “would not be looking to use this unless it was absolutely necessary and merited”.

In November, the Company Chemists' Association 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.

Meanwhile, last August, CPS also called for a temporary halt in recruiting community pharmacists to general practice, warning that this could badly hobble the sector.


Catch up on C+D’s Big Debate, which asked: Is there a shortage of pharmacists?

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