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Medicine deliveries during lockdown

With prescription delivery services stretched during the COVID-19 pandemic, how can pharmacies continue to meet demand while also protecting the health and welfare of drivers?

Unplanned learning

This article was correct at time of publishing (May 19). To keep up with the latest information please visit our COVID-19 hub

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown restrictions have seen pharmacy contractors fielding a significant increase in the number of people asking for their medication to be delivered.(1)

As part of the national response, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) commissioned a community pharmacy pandemic delivery service, requiring community pharmacies to support vulnerable patients at very high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 infection, who were asked to “shield” at home for 12 weeks.(1)

Delivery to other patients

Many other patients are also requesting home deliveries but are not covered by the NHS-funded service, and it may also be the case that pharmacies simply do not have the capacity to deliver to these patients.

Advice from both the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is to ask customers whether they have a family member, friend or carer who can collect the prescription from the pharmacy and deliver it to them.(1,2)

Using volunteers

If this is not possible, and your delivery drivers are already stretched, then you may consider taking on volunteer drivers to help.

There might already be local groups in your area who have coordinated volunteers, and the government and the NHS have teamed up with the Royal Voluntary Service to recruit NHS Volunteer Responders via the GoodSam app.(3)

You can ask NHS Volunteer Responders to deliver all prescriptions, not just those for shielded patients, and this can be requested on a one-off or an ongoing basis.(1)

The RPS stresses that you should only delegate tasks to volunteers who you believe are competent and have had appropriate training and criminal records checks. You must also ensure you have a robust audit trail in place to confirm successful delivery of medicine to customers, in particular when drivers are not able to obtain a signature.(2)

Volunteers are not suitable if they are:

  • under 18 years of age
  • in a high-risk group (including those over 70, those who are pregnant or with underlying medical conditions)
  • self-isolating
  • showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection (even if mild).(4)
Indemnity and insurance

On the issue of whether indemnity is in place for volunteers, the legal position remains untested.

Both the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the RPS say that pharmacy teams who use NHS volunteers in line with the specifications of the pandemic delivery service will not be regarded as responsible by them for actions of other people outside of their control.(5)

NHSE&I says volunteers sourced by NHS trusts to help deliver clinical services will be protected under the COVID-19 Act 2020.(6)

However, the Pharmacy Law and Ethics Association says this relates to misconduct, not claims for damages, and that the question of any such liability is a matter of law for the courts to determine on the facts of any given case.(7)

In addition, it’s worth reminding volunteers using their own vehicles that their existing motor insurance many not cover them for deliveries, and they must contact their insurer to let them know about any change of use.(8)

Driver welfare

The Health & Safety Executive has stressed that drivers should have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work, particularly for hand washing, and preventing this is against the law.(9)

The RPS has other advice for those delivering prescriptions on how to protect themselves and customers from the risk of spreading the COVID-19. As well as washing hands, it suggests drivers:

  • use sanitiser regularly between each drop off and regularly in between, such as after eating, after breaks, starting and finishing work
  • avoid touching surfaces that could be contaminated like doorbells, knockers, gates – use gloves and wash your hands or use sanitiser afterwards 
  • leave medicines outside the door, wait for the person to open the door and receive the medicines while keeping a safe distance
  • clean equipment used during deliveries, eg electronic devices, clipboard, pens, handles, surfaces within the vehicle.(2)

Customers who need to pay an NHS prescription charge should be encouraged to pay over the phone before a delivery is scheduled, and those who do not have credit or debit cards can pay by cash at the point of delivery. To protect customers and drivers, the PSNC advises that cash should be placed on the doorstep, with the patient or representative stepping back two metres to allow the delivery driver to collect the cash. The driver should then sanitise their hands and any money given.(1)

Further information

You can find more information on the C+D COVID-19 hub. The RPS has also produced guidance documents on delivery services.

References
  1. Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (2020) Pandemic Delivery Service.
  2. Royal Pharmaceutical Society (2020) Delivery services.
  3. GoodSam app for NHS Volunteer Responders (2020).
  4. Royal Pharmaceutical Society (2020) Volunteering in pharmacy.
  5. Chemist+Druggist (2020) Pharmacists won’t face FtP proceedings for actions of NHS volunteers.
  6. NHS England (2020) Advice regarding NHS volunteers relating to COVID-19.
  7. Pharmacy Law and Ethics Association (2020) Responsibility for volunteers.
  8. Hastings Direct (2020) COVID-19 FAQs.
  9. Health & Safety Executive (2020) Logistics.

 

3 Comments

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I agree with 'Lucky Ex-Locum' - people need to get off their backsides and sort it themselves.

One point on the article - my understanding of the 'NHS Delivery Service' is that all other options must be exhausted first, including local volunteer groups, before the pharmacy needs to do anything

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Yes, I think you're right and if the patient organises the volunteer, it is the patient taking legal responsibility for any consequences not us, so long as existing protocols for handing to petient representatives (2 forms of ID, etc) are adhered to.

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Delivery is not an essential service, it is a priviledge, not a right for patients and therefore, pharmacies MUST prioritise. If a patient can come in to the pharmacy to collect and are not in the vulnerable groups, the pharmacy has a perfect right to refuse delivery on the grounds of capacity. It is grossly unfair that delivery slots are taken up by people who see it as their right to have what they want, to their doorstep when they want it and thus they deprive vulnerable people who may well risk their lives coming into the pharmacy.

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