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Jo Churchill: Pharmacy 'better prepared' for second COVID-19 wave

Joe Churchill: Pharmacy teams "now have the experience of working in a COVID-secure environment"
Joe Churchill: Pharmacy teams "now have the experience of working in a COVID-secure environment"

Pharmacy minister Jo Churchill has said pharmacy is "better prepared" to deal with the rising levels of COVID-19, having adapted during the first wave earlier in the year.

With COVID-19 infections rising and England heading into a second lockdown, “we face a very tough winter” Ms Churchill wrote in a letter to pharmacy teams last week (November 5).

However, “we are better prepared now than we were earlier this year”, she said, adding that pharmacy teams “now have the experience of working in a COVID-19-secure environment [and] protecting your staff and patients and local business continuity plans are in place to help.

“Community pharmacies had to adapt early in response to the pandemic to be able to continue to provide medicines and health advice.” The fulfilment of this role is “important under normal circumstances but is of vital importance at this moment,” Ms Churchill said.

 “The actions taken by the Department [of Health and Social Care] and NHS England & NHS Improvement (NHSE&I), and the changes made earlier this year to support your work, will also help us this winter, “ she continued.

The pharmacy minister is “nevertheless talking to frontline community pharmacy staff regularly, together with national bodies for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, about what more we can do to support you”, she said.

The “critical role” of pharmacy

In the letter, Ms Churchill said pharmacies play a “critical role” in the community, and that this had been highlighted by the “exceptional circumstances we are facing as a country”. 

“I remain hugely grateful for the efforts community pharmacy teams continue to make to support all of us,” Ms Churchill said.

She also thanked pharmacy teams for their “incredible job on the medicine’s delivery service for shielded patients”.

“I know how hard you have worked to support your communities by ensuring they have continued access to their medicines and health advice,” she said.

The letter comes after NHSE&I last week (November 4) announced it had recommissioned the pandemic service delivery for a month – from November 5 to December 3 – for “clinically extremely vulnerable” patients who are shielding at home and cannot access their medicines.

Invest in pharmacy

Ms Churchill’s letter has triggered calls from for funding from the sector. The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said in a statement last week (November 6) that while “gratitude from a government minister is always something to welcome and we know that Jo Churchill is sincere in her praise for pharmacy teams, pharmacies are now running on empty and they need more than words to keep them going.”

 “Pharmacies urgently require financial support from NHSE&I to keep the doors open for patients in this current lockdown and beyond”, the NPA said.

Responding to the letter on Twitter, some pharmacy professionals voiced concern about the lack of resources to tackle the virus.

Others urged the government to reverse the funding cuts that continue to affect the sector.
What do you make of Jo Churchill's comments?

Farhat Ahmed, Locum pharmacist

Hi with refernce to what Kevin wrote "The real Kick in the Goolies is the other letter in  the document link telling GPs how well they have done, and, since appointments are now back upto pre Covid levels (WHAT!??) they can have an EXTRA 150 million quid... plan your xmas parties now!" would anybody be able to put a link on this page for that letter, I would love to run off copies and hand them out to patients who cannot get through the closed doors of the surgery unless they agree to have a flu jab

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

sification: Official Publications approval reference: 001559 Copy: ICS leaders An electronic copy of this letter, and all other relevant guidance from NHS England and NHS Improvement can be found here: 9 November 2020 Dear CCGs, GPs and general practice teams, SUPPORTING GENERAL PRACTICE – ADDITIONAL £150 MILLION OF FUNDING FROM NHS ENGLAND Thank you for the work you have done and continue to do. It is recognised, valued and appreciated. Across England, patients are now accessing general practice as much as they were before the pandemic, with overall national activity levels above 6 million appointments a week. This is an important achievement reflecting the work of everyone in general practice. Patients and the public are now hearing and responding to the message that general practice everywhere is and will continue to remain fully open for them safely during this second wave of COVID-19 and second national lockdown. Every possible measure should be taken by practices, PCNs and CCGs to maintain and expand general practice capacity, to address the continued needs of patients as practices respond to COVID-19, deal with the backlog of care, and improve services. Progress is being made. Nearly 6,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff have been employed on the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS). CCGs should continue to prioritise maximum support to PCNs, to ensure that PCN recruiting intentions are fully delivered. This could mean that over 9,000 PCN staff are in place nationally by spring. The funding entitlement for the PCN workforce has already been guaranteed now and it will continue to remain protected for the future. Full use should also be made of the GP recruitment and retention initiatives and dedicated funding, including the new to partnership payment, returners scheme, mentorship scheme and fellowship scheme, with ICS and CCG support. Classification: Official 2 General Practice Covid Capacity Expansion Fund NHS England is today establishing a new General Practice Covid Capacity Expansion Fund. £150 million of revenue is being immediately allocated through ICS to CCGs for general practice, for the purpose of supporting the expanding general practice capacity up until the end of March 2021. Allocations by ICS are attached in Appendix 1. The fund is ringfenced exclusively for use in general practice. It will be for ICSs and CCGs to determine how best it is spent within general practice, with a focus on simplicity and speed of deployment, within the following parameters. CCGs should not introduce overly burdensome administrative processes for PCNs and practices to secure support. Expanding capacity Accessing the fund will be conditional on practices and PCNs continuing to complete national appointment and workforce data in line with existing contractual requirements. Where an individual practice is not yet accurately recording activity that is broadly back at its own pre-COVID levels, it is expected to do so as part of accessing the fund. CCGs should seek to understand and support the relatively small number of practices that are finding restoration of their activity most difficult. Systems are encouraged to use the fund to stimulate the creation of additional salaried GP roles that are attractive to practices and locums alike. The fund could also be used for the employment of staff returning to help with COVID, or to increase the time commitment of existing salaried staff. And in line with commitments already made in the GP contract, support will be available to establish flexible pools of employed GPs (including returners) and other staff to deploy across local communities. The following will also be made available to support systems to increase GP capacity: • financial support (up to £120k) in addition to the £150m to each STP/ICS to support the process of recruiting and deploying employed GPs on the basis above • an optional flexible GP employment contract template; • a digital suppliers framework to assist GP workforce deployment by matching sessional capacity to local demand. Expectations Subject to the above requirement about returning activity to at least prior levels, the £150 million funding will be expected to support seven priority goals: Classification: Official 3 1. Increasing GP numbers and capacity 2. Supporting the establishment of the simple COVID [email protected] model, arrangements for which will be set out in a parallel letter shortly 3. First steps in identifying and supporting patients with Long COVID 4. Continuing to support clinically extremely vulnerable patients and maintain the shielding list 5. Continuing to make inroads into the backlog of appointments including for chronic disease management and routine vaccinations and immunisations 6. On inequalities, making significant progress on learning disability health checks, with an expectation that all CCGs will without exception reach the target of 67% by March 2021 set out in the inequalities annex to the third system letter. This will require additional focus given current achievement is one fifth lower than the equivalent position last year; and actions to improve ethnicity data recording in GP records 7. Potentially offering backfill for staff absences where this is agreed by the CCG, required to meet demand, and the individual is not able to work remotely. ICSs and CCGs will be expected to achieve these goals, and confirm they have spent the money fully within general practice. The funding is non-recurrent and should not be used to fund commitments running beyond this financial year. The £150m fund represents the total available additional COVID funding for general practice until March 2021, except for arrangements for potential COVID vaccine delivery which would be in addition. With our appreciation and thanks for everything you are doing. 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

'Patients and the public are now hearing and responding to the message that general practice everywhere is and will continue to remain fully open for them safely during this second wave of COVID-19' - what a load of utter cobblers. Patients know that GPs are doing their damnest to not see a living soul throughout this else how does NHS England explain the spikes in cancer cases that have gone too far to be treated. 

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

I would have agreed with Jo to some extent, had I not just seen the Covid Vaccination documents released just now. 

The whole supposition is that GPs will control where vaccination is done, with non surgery sites decided via PCNs the tone is of Surgeries being the "trusted" vaccine suppliers  and little or no mention of Community Pharmacy. 

The real Kick in the Goolies is the other letter in  the document link telling GPs how well they have done, and, since appointments are now back upto pre Covid levels (WHAT!??) they can have an EXTRA 150 million quid... plan your xmas parties now!

I suspect there wont be a similar letter to Pharmacies.....

O J, Community pharmacist

This letter means funding cuts.

O J, Community pharmacist

Stop writing these meaningless letters and do your job. Action speak louder than words.

sunil maini, Community pharmacist

WE? WE? How bloody dare SHE??? I face the prospect of having to lay off staff when the advance payment needs to be re-paid!Meanwhile pubs get financial help to stay closed.Have they put staff lives at risk,and saved lives by ensuring people get their life saving medication??CHEMIST AND DRUGGIST-DO YOUR JOB AND ASK HER THIS QUESTION-HOW SHE CAN SLEEP AT NIGHT KNOWING SHE IS TAKING THE MICK!!Did any of her family get prescription meds during lock-down,when we got no PPE?Can not believe C&D are as spineless as PSNC and GPHC!! PSNC have been negotiating for how long now?Simon Dukes-how do you sleep at night??I sleep well thank you.Because I,LIKE THOUSANDS OF OTHER PHARMACISTS AND PHARMACY STAFF,AM DOING MY JOB WELL!!

O J, Community pharmacist

Sunil, they all sleep really well without a single worry about the funding.

Dave Downham, Manager

Clap, clap, clap.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

We are better prepared in that we actually have PPE this time round unlike the first time when the Department of Health told us that we didn't require it!  However the rest is the same old "haven't you done well but we are not going to give you any more funding"!

C A, Community pharmacist

The problem is - you've done so well, that obviously you don't need more funding.

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