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COVID-19: Pharmacies should ‘be ready’ to close in emergency

Contractors may have to “use professional judgement” outside of standard operating procedures
Contractors may have to “use professional judgement” outside of standard operating procedures

Pharmacies need to prepare to close unexpectedly, "assess the risks of" remote supervision and operate flexible working hours, according to COVID-19 guidelines by pharmacy bodies.

The guidance “considers the support needed for pharmacy staff to stay well at work, in the context of opening hours, during what are likely to be increasingly difficult and stressful times” during the pandemic.

It covers opening hours, the use of a remote responsible pharmacist and preparing for emergency closures.

The guidance was published yesterday (March 25) in a joint effort by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) and the Company Chemists' Association (CCA).

“Mitigate the impact” of emergency closure

Pharmacy teams should “be ready” to close in an emergency because of the pandemic and put procedures in place to “mitigate the impact” of a sudden closure, the guidance said.

“It’s important that you do what you can, where it is safe to do so, to make sure everything is in place to ensure patients are able to access their prescriptions, and that your business can resume easily and effectively,” the organisations added.

Contractors should “keep up to date with national guidance” from NHS England & NHS Improvement, and arrange a “buddying” system with other nearby pharmacies to make sure patients can still access care, they said.

Full guidance on emergency closures is available on part three of the joint guidance.

“Assess risks” of using remote responsible pharmacist

During these “unprecedented times”, pharmacy teams may have to work outside of standard operating procedures (SOPs), according to the document.

One example of this is using remote responsible pharmacists to provide “safe care to patients and the public”, but only after assessing any risks, including the “procedures and practices at the pharmacy, as well as staff knowledge and training”, the guidance document said.

The remote responsible pharmacist should “make contact with the pharmacy” and ensure its staff have their contact details, and also document any decisions made, the guidance said.

Patients who are unable to receive the care they need at a pharmacy should be signposted elsewhere, it added.

“Use opening hours flexibility”

Pharmacies should “use opening hours flexibility for up to 2.5 hours a day” to “ensure pharmacy staff are not fatigued”, and to prepare for or catch up with their workload.

Pharmacies in England that are “under significant pressure” due to the COVID-19 pandemic can close to the public for up to 2.5 hours a day, NHS England announced on Sunday (March 22).

Other advice on the topic of flexible opening hours in the joint resilience document includes taking steps “to shorten the working day or have periods of time for staff to recover” and notifying your Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) of your “current business stress level using the relevant PharmOutcomes module”.

Contractors may also wish to seek advice from their LPC or consider temporarily closing. The full list of measures that can be taken are available in the COVID-19 resilience guidance document.

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