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NPA: Pharmacy's accessibility ‘double-edged sword’ during NHS strikes

The ease with which patients can access their local community pharmacy during NHS strike action is a “double-edged sword” for the sector due to workload and funding pressures, the NPA has told C+D.

Royal College of Nursing members in 73 hospital trusts in England walked out today – in what the union is calling “the biggest day of industrial action” in the NHS’s 75-year history – accompanied by Unite union ambulance staff across England and Wales.

National Pharmacy Association (NPA) director of corporate affairs Gareth Jones told C+D last week (February 3) that “community pharmacies are bound to feel some ripples from the ambulance and nurse strikes” because they are “a key element of urgent care provision”.

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

Exactly how pharmacies might be affected “remains to be seen and will vary from pharmacy to pharmacy”, he said.

However, he noted that the ripple effects of NHS strike action might not always fall easily on pharmacy teams.

“Pharmacies are increasingly the go-to place for healthcare advice and treatment when access to other parts of the health service is problematic,” Mr Jones said.

“This is a double-edged sword given our own enormous workload pressures,” he added.


"Shock-absorber for disruption”


Mr Jones also pointed out that a lack of funding has made the sector less able to respond to strikes.

“Overall, the community pharmacy sector’s ability to be an effective shock-absorber for disruption elsewhere in the health and social care system has been eroded by underfunding,” he told C+D.

This “has created serious capacity challenges”, he added.


PDA: “non-essential” tasks may fall to pharmacies


Meanwhile, Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day told C+D last week (February 2) that the union has “confidence in [its] health professional colleagues in hospitals [to] protect patient safety” during today’s planned strikes.

But it recognises that “some non-essential activity may redirect to community pharmacies on the day”, he added.

Read more: PDA: Community pharmacists cannot be used to ‘undermine’ NHS strike action

While the PDA expects “pharmacy teams [to] of course provide appropriate advice and care for patients, in general they will also want to see the government persuaded to properly fund the health system – including hospitals and community pharmacies”, Mr Day said.

He added that the majority of NHS pharmacists replying to a recent PDA consultation were in favour of taking industrial action “to try and force the government to fix the NHS crisis”.

“We are currently arranging a ballot of members in Northern Ireland’s NHS that may lead to pharmacists also striking,” Mr Day continued.

The PDA told C+D last month that the government cannot use community pharmacists to “undermine” strike action in the NHS.


NHSE directs patients to pharmacies


In the lead-up to today’s strike action, NHS England (NHSE) urged patients to continue accessing community pharmacy services during the walk-outs, as they “are not impacted by strike action”.

NHS medical director Sir Stephen Powis said this week “is likely to be the most disruptive week of strikes to date and…increased disruption is inevitable”.

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

“However, it is vital that people do not put off seeking care and come forward for treatment – using 111 online for non-life-threatening care, as well as local pharmacies or general practice,” he added.

Pharmacy bodies hit back at the government during December’s wave of strikes, warning that pharmacy teams cannot "step in" to fill service gaps.

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