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Asda in Pharmacy First locum row over ‘unacceptable’ email

Locums have been threatened with removal from Asda’s locum directory if they refuse to provide Pharmacy First services, an internal email has revealed.

An email from a regional healthcare manager claiming that Asda will not book locums that refuse to offer Pharmacy First services has caused a furore.

According to a January 12 email from the supermarket’s healthcare area manager for Manchester and Sheffield Andrew Windus, locums refusing to provide the advanced service “for whatever reason” would be removed from its locum platform.

An Asda spokesperson told C+D that it is “providing support” for its pharmacists “to feel confident in providing the new services”.

Read more: Half of pharmacists warn not enough staff to ‘safely’ provide Pharmacy First

Mr Windus’s email to local Asda pharmacies suggested that some locums are “giving out a vibe” that they “may refuse” to offer Pharmacy First services when the advanced service launches this week.

This, he said, “will not be accepted”, adding that Asda’s “locum population” will need to upload a declaration “agreeing to engage” with Pharmacy First.

The email added that Mr Windus will engage “personally” with any locum “either struggling [or] refusing to engage with Pharmacy First” to “see what blockers are driving the behaviour” and whether these can be “removed”.

Read more: NHSE campaign will ‘encourage public’ to use Pharmacy First from mid-February

“If for whatever reason locums are refusing, they will be removed from [Asda’s] platform permanently - non-negotiable,” it said.

Mr Windus also asked pharmacy managers to “lead from the front” and “engage” with locums to “confirm they will be delivering all seven elements of the service”.

There is “still an element of unknown here for all of us and I’ve got your backs”, he said, adding that the new service is an “unbelievable opportunity” for pharmacy professionals to get “the respect you deserve within the industry”.

 

“Unacceptable”

 

The email, posted on X – formerly known as Twitter – over the weekend by pharmacist Paul Summerfield, provoked discussion among pharmacists.

Mr Summerfield, who is a locum pharmacist and was speaking in a personal capacity, said that it was “unacceptable” to threaten pharmacists.

“It is up to the practitioner providing the service to decide whether they are competent to do so,” he added.

Read more: Asda offers patients cash incentive to chat to pharmacist about Pharmacy First

GP pharmacist Siddiqur Rahman said via X that locums were under pressure to “declare themselves as fully competent”, adding that “most” will not have had training or “protected learning time” by the start date.

And consultant pharmacist for primary care and diabetes Charles Odiase said that no pharmacist should feel threatened to “make clinical decisions or interventions” like providing Pharmacy First services.

Meanwhile, support network The Pharmacist Cooperative added that it has “seen various threatening messages to locums to self-declare their competence now - irrespective if they are ready or not - otherwise their bookings will be cancelled and no future locum shifts”.

 

“Support…to feel confident”

 

Asda has provided free training to all of its pharmacists, including locums in its directory, C+D has learned.

The email was sent to encourage pharmacists to raise their concerns about delivering the service and removing a locum from the supermarket pharmacy’s book would only happen as a last resort, C+D was told.

A spokesperson for Asda yesterday (January 29) said that it was “important” that its patients had “consistent services when visiting any Asda Pharmacy”.

Read more: NHSE: Infection tests may be ‘introduced’ to Pharmacy First to tackle AMR

Nevertheless, the spokesperson told C+D that it was “providing support” for its pharmacists “to feel confident in providing the new services”.

“We recognise the challenges that providing these new services presents to our pharmacists, both resident and locum,” they added.

The spokesperson said that Pharmacy First was a “pivotal moment for the industry” and that the supermarket is “excited to lead [its] committed pharmacists through these exciting changes”.

 

Training wheels

 

Last week, C+D reported that almost half of “more than 3,500” pharmacists surveyed about the Pharmacy First service said that pharmacies do not have enough staff to “safely” deliver existing services, let alone new ones. 

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s (PDA) survey also found that pharmacists were concerned that there had not been enough training prior to the launch of the new service this week.

Read more: Pharmacy First could ‘make it even easier’ to deliver MMR jabs, says minister

On the same day, C+D revealed that Asda was raising awareness of the new Pharmacy First service by adding £1 to patients’ “cash pot” on its rewards app when they spoke to the pharmacy team about it.

Former RPS England (RPSE) chair Thorrun Govind said at the time that the move was “not a great look” for the supermarket pharmacy.

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