Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) has announced that planned industrial action, which its members voted in favour of last month, has been put on hold as a result of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the representative body told C+D on Monday (March 16) that the measure has been postponed “for the foreseeable as community pharmacy plays an integral role in getting everyone through coronavirus”.
Some pharmacies in the country are currently dispensing around four times as much medication in a week as they normally would, the CPNI added.
The representative body urged the public to show understanding of the mounting pressure pharmacies are under due to COVID-19 and to “work with the new arrangements pharmacies are having to introduce in order to deal with the surge in patient and prescription requests”
The CPNI also issued a request to the general public to “understand that services may need to be restricted to prioritise those most in need as pharmacy teams manage supplies of medicines”.
Speaking after an emergency CPNI meeting, chief executive Gerard Greene said on Monday that the situation for pharmacies has been “compounded by the fact that a lot of GP surgeries have closed to the public”.
Mr Greene also echoed official guidance for patients not to visit a pharmacy if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, to “avoid putting pharmacy staff and other patients at risk”.
“If your symptoms worsen during your home isolation or you are no better after seven days, seek medical advice by telephone,” he added.
Mr Green also emphasised the importance of patients not stockpiling drugs during the outbreak, commenting that “the public…should be assured that pharmacies are working hard to manage the stock levels”.
“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that medicines and prescriptions are not over-ordered. We must all think of each other to ensure that there are enough medicines for everyone and especially for those in our community who are most in need,” he explained.
“Biggest societal challenge in our lifetime”
In a statement released yesterday (March 17), Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann said the COVID-19 outbreak represents the “biggest societal challenge in our lifetime” and asked for the public to show consideration for healthcare staff on the frontline.
“I would urge everyone to be patient with staff who are working through unprecedented pressures,” he said. “Please respect and give space to nurses, doctors, pharmacists, social care staff…and everyone working across the system.”
Responding to the health minister’s statement yesterday, CPNI outlined new measures that would be put into place to help Northern Irish pharmacies deal with the crisis.
“We will be changing how we work in community pharmacy and would ask for public support to manage this: there will be significantly reduced access to pharmacies. Access will be restricted to keep low numbers inside pharmacies,” Mr Greene said.
New counters are also being put in place in many pharmacies as a means of putting social distancing into action, he added.
During this time, patients should also allow pharmacies more time to get their medication ready, giving them “up to 48 hours to get repeat medicines ready for collection once forms are handed into the pharmacy”, he said.