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We stand with you: Pharmacists back junior doctors despite strike pressures

Community pharmacists have refused to condemn junior doctors for taking strike action this week, despite the increase in workload they have experienced as a result.

The four-day strike organised by the British Medical Association (BMA) and hospital doctors’ union the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCA) began on Wednesday morning  (April 11) and will run until tomorrow.

Ade Williams, superintendent pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, told C+D today (April 14) that “we…vehemently support the actions of the junior doctors”.

“We sadly can relate all too well to their struggle,” he continued.

Read more: ‘All hands on deck’: Pharmacists ‘step into the breach’ during NHS strikes

However, he noted that “additional pressure” on GPs in some locations, delayed or cancelled appointments and “perceived access barriers” means his team “is having a lot more to do at a time we are already stretched”.

Mr Williams’ team is also dealing with the “normal post-bank holiday surge”, with an increase in “anxious patients confused about ease of access across NHS,” he told C+D

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

Owner of Newdays Pharmacy in Berkshire, Olivier Picard, said he did not “feel resentful” of doctors or nurses choosing to go on strike “to defend their position”.

“While we want to be a shock absorber for the NHS, it is going to be very difficult for us to continue doing that unless we see an increase in funding for pharmacy too,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

And Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) director Paul Day told C+D on Tuesday (April 11) that the union’s members would not take on the work of those striking unless absolutely necessary.

“Those taking lawful industrial action should…be assured that PDAU members, as supportive colleague trade unionists, will not undertake work that those on strike would normally have carried out if this is at all avoidable,” he said.

The BMA’s junior doctors’ committee (JDC) is asking the government to commit to a roughly 35% pay increase for junior doctors, which would restore their pay to its 2008/9 levels.

 

“No capacity”

 

It comes as pharmacists have “[stepped] into the breach” to provide “support” during the strikes.

But sector leaders have remained adamant that pharmacists are in no position to pick up the slack.

Earlier this week, Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Dr Leyla Hannbeck told C+D  that community pharmacies had already reported an increase in workload due to the strike action.

But she stressed that pharmacies “have no capacity to step in and help while junior doctors are on strike”.

“This is yet another poorly thought through plan by the decision makers and NHS bosses, who seem to be remote from the reality,” she said.

“Our sector is currently fighting for its survival”, she added, pointing to years of underfunding for pharmacies “because of the poor decisions made by NHS bosses”.

Read more: Pharmacies ‘largely unaffected’ by severe pressures, claims NHS medical director

C+D has contacted NHSE for comment.

Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's (RPS) English Pharmacy Board, Thorrun Govind, stressed that pharmacists are not a substitute for other healthcare professionals” and should instead be there to “complement and work with” them.

“Pharmacists work incredibly hard already and cannot take on additional roles and our teams cannot suffer due to an underfunded system – what we want to see is fair funding for the enormous amount of work we do already,” she added.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DH) spokesperson said the government “backs” community pharmacy with £2.6 billion a year and has announced “a further” £100m of investment into the sector.

 

“Already underfunded”

 

Meanwhile, Mr Day said  that the community pharmacy sector is “already underfunded” in England, and that the government “should not be expecting community pharmacy businesses to support [it] against doctors”.

Director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Gareth Jones, warned that pharmacies would continue to experience added pressures “for many days [after the strike] until the normal equilibrium returns”.

He continued: “GPs will probably need to deal with some urgent care requests normally handled in hospitals and that could in turn drive unmet demand into community pharmacies.”

Read more: It’s time for community pharmacy to start saying no

He noted that the sector’s ability to be “an effective shock absorber for disruption elsewhere in the health and social care system” has been “eroded by persistent underfunding, which has created serious capacity challenges in our sector”.

Indeed, at Crown Pharmacy in Redbourn near St Albans, pharmacy manager Paras Shah said things have been getting noticeably busier.

“Our workload has definitely doubled or tripled in the last few months as GPs are overwhelmed and are signposting a lot of minor ailments and OTC queries to us,” he told C+D.

During junior doctors’ strikes that took place last month, NHE encouraged patients to use local pharmacies as one of their “first ports of call” during the action.

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