NHS England and NHS Improvement said last week (April 3) that, with agreement health secretary Matt Hancock, they “are requiring pharmacies in England to open from 2pm to 5pm on 10 April 2020 and 13 April 2020”.
The commissioning body has powers to enforce this measure under the National Health Service (Amendments Relating to the Provision of Primary Care Services During a Pandemic etc.) Regulations 2020, it clarified.
It comes despite pharmacies complaining of overwork and instances of patient abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) distanced itself from this decision, which it said “has been made unilaterally” by NHS England.
“This decision does not represent a negotiated position – PSNC’s view is that the planned openings over the bank holidays would have been sufficient to meet patients’ needs and we have seen no evidence to the contrary,” PSNC CEO Simon Dukes said.
Mr Dukes added that PSNC would ask NHS England for “fair funding to cover contractors’ costs for these opening hours”, as it has said that bank holiday days will be treated as normal working days.
This means that the payment that contractors will be able to claim for these days will not “reflect a bank or public holiday premium”, Mr Dukes said.
C+D has approached NHS England for comment.
Ms Dukes said PSNC made clear to NHS England “how disruptive making a decision like this on less than a week’s notice is for businesses, pharmacy teams, and their own families”.
“Pharmacy teams had been holding on for this break and we are concerned that there may be an increase in temporary closures now that contractors have to manage workload pressures and staff exhaustion without the Easter break,” he added.
Sadik Al-Hassan, manager of the Well Pharmacy in Kingswood, Bristol told C+D today (April 7) that this “mostly unnecessary opening being forced on pharmacies doesn't give some of our teams the respite they need and deserve”.
“I am sure the last-minute nature of the announcement will add to frustrations in pharmacies up and down the country,” he added.
Appeal the decision
Marty Schulz, a trainee pharmacy technician based in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, wondered whether the decision should be appealed.
“Pharmacy teams are absolutely burnt out. Someone somewhere is asking for dangerous dispensing errors and a lot of sick leave! They’ll soon change their minds when regular responsible pharmacists are off sick and they can’t find locum cover for that same reason, resulting in branches having to close,” she said.
Geeta Sharma, a pharmacist based in Cambridge, launched a petition last week to keep community pharmacies closed over the Bank holiday weekend. At the time of publication, the petition had 411 signatures.
“This break is needed by a flagging workforce more than ever right now. With just a week’s notice, the department of health told pharmacies today [April 3] that they will need to open next weekend,” she wrote as an accompanying statement to her petition.
Opening hours in the rest of the UK
The Scottish health minister Jeane Freeman today asked pharmacies in Scotland to stay open during the Easter bank holidays.
However, community pharmacies in Wales are not expected to open on those days but “health boards may ask for additional cover if necessary”, a Welsh government spokesperson told C+D today.
C+D has approached the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland to ask what decisions have been made regarding pharmacies’ opening hours over the bank holiday weekend.