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GPhC: Pharmacies must ‘assess’ whether they can 'safely offer' Pharmacy First

The pharmacy regulator has warned that pharmacies should consider not running the new common conditions service if they have inadequate “staffing levels and skill mix”. 

Superintendent pharmacists and pharmacy owners “need to continually assess staffing levels and skill mix to make sure” they can provide Pharmacy First, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) officials have said. 

GPhC chief executive and registrar Duncan Rudkin and chief pharmacy officer Roz Gittins yesterday (February 1) sent a letter about the new Pharmacy First service, which launched in England last week (January 31), to pharmacy owners and superintendent pharmacists.

The letter warned that “offering a wider range of services brings challenges as well as opportunities” and acknowledged that this comes amid “significant pressures and demands” on community pharmacies.

The GPhC bosses said that it is “essential” that superintendents and owners ensure their teams are “supported…to exercise their professional judgement”.

“This includes a pharmacist considering whether they can safely offer a service at a particular time and in a particular situation, after considering the available staffing and the other resources that may be required to ensure patient safety”, they added.

The letter stressed that pharmacies must have “enough staff that have sufficient training, knowledge and skills to be able to provide all pharmacy services safely and effectively”.

And “all members of the pharmacy teams must have the ability to raise any concerns in a professional environment that encourages openness, honesty and continuing development and learning,” they added.


Locums forced to offer Pharmacy First?


The GPhC’s letter comes amid claims from locum pharmacists working for Rowlands that they feel “intimidated to deliver Pharmacy First services” at the multiple.

Locums were told last month that they must provide a declaration that they are competent to provide Pharmacy First services, or else may have their booking cancelled.

Rowlands told C+D last week (January 31) that locums are “responsible” for ensuring they are competent to deliver the service and stressed that it has said it “may” cancel locum bookings if they refuse to engage with the service and not that it will.

Meanwhile, an internal email seen by C+D revealed that locums have also last month been threatened with removal from Asda’s locum directory if they refuse to provide the Pharmacy First service.

The email to local Asda pharmacies suggested that some locums had been “giving out a vibe” that they “may refuse” to offer Pharmacy First services when the advanced service launched last week.

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


What is the PDA’s advice?


The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) last week (January 30) “reiterated” its guidance for responsible pharmacists (RPs) amid reports that pharmacists have been “under pressure to say they are competent prematurely”.

It said that it is up to the RP to determine whether or not they feel “confident or competent” to provide the Pharmacy First services. 

The union said that if they determine that the pharmacy lacks “the necessary resources, including sufficient, competent staff”, then they should “follow their employer’s business continuity plans” around the temporary withdrawal of the services.

“Operating the Pharmacy First Service is at the sole discretion of the RP each day in each pharmacy, as the Medicines Act places a legal duty on the RP to secure the safe and effective running of the pharmacy,” the PDA said, adding that pharmacy owners are legally required to “enable the RP to exercise his/her professional judgement, as appropriate”.

Last month, 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 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.

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