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Open letter: Sector's exclusion from COVID-19 life cover is a disgrace

"What is community pharmacy's role at this time if not essential and lifesaving?"

In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, C+D editor Beth Kennedy questions why pharmacy teams aren’t automatically covered by COVID-19 life assurance for healthcare workers

Dear Mr Hancock,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I am writing to discuss your announcement on Monday (April 27) that a £60,000 life assurance payout will be made to the families of frontline health and care staff who die after contracting COVID-19. This is, in many ways, news to be welcomed.

However, the scheme was said to cover staff “who provide hands-on personal care for people who have contracted coronavirus or work in health or care settings where the virus is present”. GPs, dentists and care home staff were on the list of professionals who would be covered due to their “essential and lifesaving work”, but I was shocked to see community pharmacy teams were not among them.   

After all, with hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of COVID-19 patients and many GPs only offering virtual consultations, pharmacies are the only frontline healthcare services left open in primary care.

Pharmacy teams are treating patients face to face, often with a dismal lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from the virus. Many C+D readers have given examples of patients coughing without covering their mouths in the pharmacy and even resorting to physical violence when asked to comply with social distancing rules.

So far, three pharmacists have died from the virus. But apparently all this isn’t “hands on” enough to qualify pharmacy teams for the scheme.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) told C+D that pharmacists would only be covered by the scheme in “exceptional circumstances”. What is community pharmacy’s role at this time if not essential and lifesaving? How many more deaths will it take for the government to take pharmacy’s role in battling this virus seriously?

The English government’s treatment of its community pharmacy teams during this pandemic is nothing short of a national disgrace. While their colleagues in WalesScotland and Northern Ireland have been given additional funding packages to recognise the workload COVID-19 is bringing to pharmacies, teams in England have been repeatedly disrespected by the DH and NHS England. And no, the £300 million in advance payments that will eventually have to be paid back does not constitute new money.

I fear that the exclusion of pharmacy teams from this policy will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Years of underfunding and lack of recognition have severely weakened the morale of England’s pharmacy workforce, many of whom only turn up to do their jobs every day out of concern for their patients.

This policy not extending to them could understandably lead pharmacy professionals to rethink their choice of profession altogether, at a time when the country needs them most.

Now is the time to move from warm, but ultimately empty, words about pharmacy teams’ heroic work on the COVID-19 frontline to something much more tangible. If pharmacy’s work is as vital as you have said it is, extend the life assurance scheme to pharmacists and their teams, and do it now.

I hope you will give this matter serious consideration.

Your sincerely,

Beth Kennedy, editor, C+D

Sign the petition asking the DH for life assurance for community pharmacy teams here.

Do you think pharmacy teams should be covered by the scheme?

Brian Plainer, Locum pharmacist

Your letter is excellent Beth Kennedy.

Yet DoH still won't take on the mantle of procuring NHS medicines themselves to reach their "cost-zero" ideal. Why not? Because for decades pharmacies have proven to be more efficient at achieving discounts in their commercial transactions, which can then be "clawed-back" to the current "cost-negative" system. Add to this contentious accusations that pharmacies might be "defrauding" the NHS in order to attain these discounts, when in reality the converse appears to be the reality, and there's fuel for a fire of unimaginable animosities.

janet maynard, Community pharmacist

hasn't this been rectified now?


O J, Community pharmacist

DoH dont give a flying rats about the community sector. To them this sector is rotten burden on public finances. Wasnt' it the DoH agenda to close 3000 pharmacies. Keith Ridge still hopes he succeeds in doing that.

Brian Plainer, Locum pharmacist


N patel , Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

have set up a petition on parliament website. once it goes live will post link on here

Brian Wells, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Very good letter. The treatment of pharmacists is a disgrace and has been for many years. I believe that a big part of the problem is that the profession often hides its light under a bushel by quietly and efficiently carrying out its duties without fuss, including correcting mistakes, so that patients do not lose faith in other health professionals.

There needs to be a large publicity campaign highlighting the safety checking role of pharmacists, together with explaining that the initial training is five years, followed by a requirement to keep their knowledge up to date.

Ahmed El-Dabbagh, Community pharmacist

The whole idea is about saving life. While all concern now is about the death of people from Covid-19, many people with chronic and serious illnesses will die from lack of medicine supply and from lack of advice on any patient's concern of new symptoms due to medication side effect or ineffectiveness. These concerns make pharmacist's job very essential  in helping and saving life while everyone is consumed in dealing  with Covid-19 However as pharmacist has to be in contact with patients and with other colleagues in the pharmacy  increases his risk of contracting  Covid-19 virus. You can yourself go in a pharmacy and watch how it works and assess for yourself how dangerous its. I am sure you won't feel safe working in the pharmacy for 10 hours surrounded by patients, as the pharmacy team is doing.

Brian Plainer, Locum pharmacist

I made this very point here to one of our lawyers :

She argues that she acts in our defence, pro bono, in this case, yet to think we're naive enough not to realise that as an equity law partner in her firm, she won't already be on a basic sizeable income and bonuses before being able to act for us in this way, not to mention the potential rewards to secure her firm future high-cost work? Yet it's these exact revenues, I argue, that detract and are misdirected to what ought to be put into our pharmacy NHS services as immediate priority way ahead of any of these private firms coffers.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Great Letter. I hope he reads it, and may be act upon it. Better release this letter to the media. Daily Mail and ITV GMB should be the place as they would love such truthful and whacking the Govt stories.

Well done Beth.

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