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Striking ‘not an option’ for pharmacy businesses, PSNC warns contractors

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has warned that strike action is “not an option” for pharmacy businesses, following legal advice.

In a briefing document published on Friday (February 17), the pharmacy negotiator acknowledged that some contractors have called for community pharmacies to “take strike action to convey the pressures on the sector”.

PSNC “sought legal advice” amid the pressure to take “more militant action”, it said.

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

But it added that the advice “was clear” that “though strike action can be effective for employees, this is not an option for businesses as employers” such as community pharmacies.

Furthermore, PSNC explained that while protection is given to trade unions organising collective action such as strikes, the same protection is not given to organisations representing businesses – such as PSNC.


Financial and reputational damage


“The result is that any collective action, for example, to withhold NHS or other pharmacy services, by contractors or PSNC, would fall foul of competition legislation, be a breach of contract/contractual services and more,” it said.

Read more: Does a pharmacist have to answer a patient's phone call?

This would be the case even if any collective action was “limited in scope and duration”, it added.

PSNC warned that as well as being unviable, strike action could also have “potentially significant adverse financial and reputational consequences” for the sector.


Considering next steps


PSNC added that is it “continuing to carefully consider other courses of action available to contractors”.

It will hold “an urgent meeting very soon to consider next steps and what other relief measures might be available for pharmacies”, it said.

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

It comes as the pharmacy negotiator last week revealed that it has rejected government proposals to relieve pressure on pharmacists because they were “totally inadequate”.

The negotiator had been “actively discussing” measures including “a relaxation of opening hours requirements” with the government and NHS England (NHSE), alongside price concessions reform.

Read more: PSNC rejects ‘totally inadequate’ proposals to relieve sector pressures

But it said it was “very disappointed” by the options on the table, describing them as “piecemeal” and “sticking plasters”.

“[The committee] felt these made it clear that NHSE and the [DH] have no intention of relieving the pressure on all contractors in any meaningful way,” it added.

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

Meanwhile, pharmacy bodies have said that the ease with which patients can access their local community pharmacy during current NHS strike action is a “double-edged sword” for the sector due to workload and funding pressures.

And the pharmacy union announced last month that it will proceed to a formal ballot of Northern Ireland pharmacists on industrial action – although this will not apply to community pharmacy colleagues but to members employed by the NHS on “agenda for change” contracts, essentially hospital pharmacists.

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