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NHSE: Pharmacies should be 'first point of call' during junior doctor strikes

Pharmacies should act as “first points of call” during the junior doctor strike action launching today, NHS England (NHSE) has said.

Junior doctors at all trusts in England are striking for 72 hours from today (March 13) until Wednesday (March 15) in what will be the longest continuous period of strike action in recent months, NHSE said on Saturday (March 11).

“Emergency, urgent and critical care will be prioritised” during this time – which could see the “biggest strike disruption to date” - it added.

Meanwhile, NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis added that the public should use pharmacies, general practice and 111 online as “first points of call”.

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

“We have no option but to prioritise emergency and critical care as a matter of patient safety, and we’re asking the public to help us and use 111 online as well as local services like general practice and pharmacies as first points of call”, he said.

But he stressed that “people should of course always use 999 in a life-threatening emergency”.

 

“Increased pressure”

 

Professor Powis said that with the “escalated” scope of industrial action, this has “increased pressure” on the NHS as it is still “recovering from one of the most challenging winters on record”.

While the NHS “has been working incredibly hard to mitigate the impact of this strike”, there is “no doubt that disruption will be much more severe than before”, he added.

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

The news comes at a time when pharmacists are already reporting feeling immense pressure, with data gathered by C+D’s annual Salary Survey finding that 26% of pharmacists and pharmacy staff had suffered depression ‘at or as a result of work’ in the past year.

 

PDA: Don’t take on work outside job description

 

Regarding this week’s junior doctors’ strike, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) stressed that members should stick to their job description and avoid carrying out work that falls within the normal workload of those on strike.

PDA director Paul Day told C+D today that members “in any setting” should “practice within their training and competency, and their defined role and job description”.

“We also think that those taking lawful industrial action should be assured that others will not undertake work that those on strike would normally have carried out if this is at all avoidable,” he said.

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

“We'd therefore hope pharmacy contractors, who have their own issue with government funding levels, would not seek to undermine strike action,” Mr Day added.

However, patient safety and care “will always be the priority for pharmacists in accordance with their professional duties, the NHS terms of service and their employment contracts”, he said.

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

When nurses took industrial action in February, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that the ease with which patients can access their local community pharmacy during NHS strikes is “a double-edged sword” due to workload and funding pressures.

NPA director of corporate affairs Gareth Jones told C+D at the time that community pharmacies were “bound to feel some ripples from the ambulance and nurse strikes” because they are “a key element of urgent care provision”.

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

But Mr Jones also said that a lack of funding made it harder for the sector to respond to strikes, telling C+D that community pharmacy’s “ability to be an effective shock-absorber for disruption elsewhere in the health and social care system has been eroded by underfunding”.

Pharmacy bodies also 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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