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Pharmacy bodies hit back at government amid nurse strikes

As the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) begins strike action and with threats of similar action raging across the rest of the health service, pharmacy bodies warn C+D that pharmacy teams cannot "step in" to fill service gaps.

The action - the first in the RCN’s 106-year history – has seen picket lines drawn at 63 NHS hospital trusts in England, as well as all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board – the Aneurin Bevan – in Wales.

Strike action in Scotland has temporarily been paused, as the RCN consults its members over a revised offer from the Scottish government.

Today’s (December 15) 12-hour strike marks the biggest strike action in the health service's history, with a second 12-hour nursing strike scheduled for December 20.

Read more: ‘Last man standing’: How will NHS strike action affect community pharmacy?

While the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is also set to stage its first strike in the coming months, several other health unions are also currently balloting members over industrial action, amid ongoing pay disputes.

Last month, the British Medical Association (BMA) also announced that a ballot for industrial action by junior doctors in England will open in January.


AIMp: “We cannot continue doing more for less”


“Pharmacists have consistently left the doors open for our patients and gone over and beyond,” the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D today.

“However, any expectations by anyone thinking that now pharmacists are going to step in that sphere and fix any problem, is not going to be realistic,” she added.

It comes as the BMA yesterday (December 14) urged GPs not to cover for striking ambulance workers after NHS England (NHSE) urged practices and primary care networks to deploy staff.

In a letter sent to integrated care boards, NHSE asked for clinical staff to be released to help support the London Ambulance Service during the Unison strike on 21 December.

Read more: ‘Critical situation’: PSNC moots reduced opening hours amid NHS strike chaos

Pharmacists and pharmacy teams have “always been very keen” and “willing to support the NHS”, Dr Hannbeck added.

“However, we have made it very clear that we cannot continue doing more for less. It’s simply not happening,” she said.

“If the government wants us to support the NHS and listen to the solutions that we've offered, then they need to make sure that this sector is funded appropriately and supported and recognised appropriately moving forwards,” she told C+D.


PDA: “Health workers will naturally prioritise patient safety”


Meanwhile, Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day told C+D that the government is “responsible for the situation that has resulted in these strikes and ministers should be sitting down with trade unions to reach a deal”.

According to experimental data published by NHS Digital in September on NHS vacancies in England, as of June, registered nursing staff faced a vacancy rate of 11.8%, up from the 10.3% recorded in the same period in the previous year.

“Since Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt were health secretary, this government has progressively cut public services, reducing real terms pay,” Mr Day added.

“Health workers will naturally prioritise patient safety in accordance with their responsibilities and taking this action will not have been easy for our nursing colleagues,” he acknowledged. 

“However, nurses are typically lower paid than pharmacists and we are told some nurses now need the support of foodbanks to survive as the cost of living crisis continues. That is not sustainable,” he said.

Read more: Why does striking seem to be the hardest word for community pharmacy?

If nurses do not strike now, “they have little alternative other than leave their profession”, he warned, which would worsen both the situation facing patients and nursing staffing levels.

“It is in the interests of patients, nurses and all health sector workers if the current industrial action makes government see sense and act appropriately,” he added.

The PDA has put together guidance for pharmacists on strike action, to help them respond to a picket line.

In July, when asked by C+D about pharmacist’s rights to take their own strike action, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee chief executive Janet Morrison conceded that contractors could “ultimately…decide if they, too, wanted to withhold their labour at any point”.

However, this would constitute a breach of their contract, she warned.


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