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Temporary pharmacy closures: Addiction charities warn of ‘massive’ user impact

Temporary pharmacy closures can “disproportionately” affect supervised consumption service users, placing these vulnerable people at “even greater risk”, two charities have told C+D. 

A continued debate on part and full-day pharmacy closures and the causes behind them has sparked different views in the community pharmacy sector.

The debate has intensified in recent months, culminating in research by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s showing the rate of temporary pharmacy closures in Scotland. The union has also referred NHS England to the Information Commissioner’s Office in August, over alleged failures to share data on closures.

The General Pharmaceutical Council acknowledged last month that “pharmacy closures can be distressing for all involved, and potentially may raise concerns for patient safety”.

For Roz Gittins, director of pharmacy at Humankind – which provides services to meet health and social needs – temporary pharmacy closures are already having a “massive impact” on people using pharmacies’ supervised consumption services.

It is an issue “that shows no sign of abating”, Ms Gittins added.

“Where closures are occurring in more rural areas and where there are no alternative pharmacies locally available, this is having the most impact,” Ms Gittins added.

As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, amid soaring energy bills and rising food and fuel costs, “people have even less means to be able to afford to travel further”, she told C+D. 


“Pharmacy has a significant yet unique role to play”


But the charity faces even bigger hurdles when closures happen at short notice, as it is given “little time to undertake any additional risk assessments”, Ms Gittins added.

Delays in delivering paper prescriptions to a new pharmacy in time, when electronic prescriptions are not available, “further compound this issue”, she said.

“We have had high risk situations such as Friday prison releases where we have struggled to find the person a pharmacy, placing an already vulnerable person at even greater risk,” she told C+D.

Read more: Cost of living: Pleas to scrap script charge as patients forced to reduce meds

According to data released by the Office for National Statistics in August, 4,859 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in England and Wales in 2021, 6.2% higher than the rate recorded in 2020 and the highest number since records began in 1993.

“Community pharmacy has a significant yet unique role to play in helping to deliver high quality and safe services to people who use drugs,” Ms Gittins said.

“Without them, we’re having to find alternatives such as the specialist treatment services doing the supervised consumption ourselves or else the person would have no medication at all, which places them at increased risk of harm, including a potentially fatal overdose,” she added.


Closures “destabilising” for service users


Meanwhile, Rachel Britton, director of pharmacy at We Are With You – which offers services to help people make behavioural changes while coping with mental health, drug or alcohol issues – warned that some service users “are now unable to access their medication without the risk of interruption”. 

While We Are With You acknowledges “the pressure that community pharmacies are under...closures can have a disproportionately significant impact on our service users”, she noted.

Following a temporary closure, “we have to generate new prescriptions and find a new pharmacy”, she said.

Read more: Community pharmacy: the forgotten frontline against drug-related deaths

“Unlike GPs, we are not able to create electronic prescriptions that are easily transferred between pharmacies”, which adds further strain to the charity’s resources, she added.

Closures can also “be destabilising” for supervised consumption service users, as they “build valued relationships with a particular pharmacy”, Dr Britton warned.


Concerns raised with NHS England leaders


To mitigate the risks service users face from temporary closures, clinical teams continue to work “closely with affected pharmacies”, Dr Britton told C+D.

We Are With You also liaises with head offices and regional management at multiples including Boots and Lloydspharmacy, “to ensure that we are given as much notice as possible” if temporary closures happen, she said.

C+D has approached Boots and Lloydspharmacy for comment. 

Dr Britton said the charity is also raising this issue “nationally with senior NHS England leaders”, to highlight the impact of closures on service users.

We Are With You has also spoken with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), Dr Britton confirmed, “to propose that consideration be given to enacting emergency legislation that would ease the administrative burden around prescriptions”.

C+D has approached OHID for comment.


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