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72% pharmacies say processes not improved before second COVID-19 wave

Funding issues were a concern for 39% of respondents to a survey of Kent and Medway pharmacies
Funding issues were a concern for 39% of respondents to a survey of Kent and Medway pharmacies

Almost three quarters (72%) think systems in place for dealing with COVID-19 had not been improved in advance of a second wave, a survey of pharmacies in Kent and Medway has shown.

When thinking about getting ready for a second wave of COVID-19, “prescription processes and the medication supply chain” were the most common concerns among the 101 community pharmacies that responded to the survey by Healthwatch Medway and Healthwatch Kent. The results of the survey – which ran from September 17 to October 19 – were published last week (November 5).

An anonymous respondent said they did not “feel that much has changed or improved” ahead of the second wave. They were especially concerned about stock and said they “anticipate further shortages and more instances of us using additional time to source products and also incurring losses due to re-imbursement shortfalls”.

While 72% of the 101 community pharmacies that responded to the survey said systems had not improved ahead of the second wave, the collective response submitted by the Paydens group – which operates more than 100 pharmacies across the south-east of England – “indicated that they do think that systems are now in place to mitigate concerns around medication in a second lockdown,” according to the Healthwatch report.

The Paydens group and Lloydspharmacy also shared feedback with Healthwatch on behalf of 66 and 17 of their branches respectively.

Access to flu stock was a concern for 22% of pharmacies, according to the report. This is in line with concerns reported by C+D in September when both pharmacy teams and representative bodies reported problems sourcing flu vaccines due to increased demand.

The government released guidance earlier this month detailing how community pharmacies could access the additional flu jab stock purchased by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) for this year’s flu season.

Funding issues

Almost 4 in 10 (39%) of the community pharmacies who responded to the survey mentioned “funding issues” as a concern.

One anonymous respondent said that “staff costs have escalated since lockdown and are still at a high level”, while another cited reduced income from services and said they had “lost business to online pharmacies”.

According to another contractor, “funding has to be improved considerably if pharmacy was going to face a second round of spike”.

During the first wave of COVID-19, the DH made available a total of £370 million as advance funding to help the sector cope with COVID-19 pressures, which Conservative peer Lord Grade said in July was “nowhere near enough to keep [them] in business”.

Commenting on the findings of the Healthwatch report, Kent local pharmaceutical committee CEO Shilpa Shah told C+D earlier this week (November 9) that what pharmacies need now is “better remuneration and a review of the five-year contractual framework”.

“We also need reassurance that the advance payment will be written off at a national level,” she added.

Communication with pharmacies could improve too, Ms Shah said, suggesting that national messages should first be shared with the sector through the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and then made publicly available.

“It seems to always be the other way around, which causes unnecessary stress and worry,” she added.

Impact on staffing

Almost 2 in 10 (17%) of those who took part in the Healthwatch survey expressed concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on staffing.

“The workload/staffing situation earlier this year was unsustainable, if we do not get more funding for staff and services immediately, I think it is more likely the service will collapse this winter,” one respondent said.

“We only got through the first wave on the goodwill of staff, how much more can they be expected to give?” they asked.  

The Healthwatch report also found that nearly all respondents (92%) felt they did not receive the information, support and equipment they needed to respond to the first wave of the pandemic. More than three quarters (78%) said communication with GPs had been “difficult and slow”.

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