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.
Pharmacy needs funding. The virus will not disappear, but pharmacies will!— Rifat Asghar-Hussain (@reeyah1) November 5, 2020
Others urged the government to reverse the funding cuts that continue to affect the sector.
We could do with a new settlement in Community Pharmacy, so whilst thanks don’t go a miss - any news?— Rachel Stacey (@r4ch15) November 5, 2020
We need funding so we can stay open not a sodding letter. Reverse the funding cuts, backdate the reversal to 2016. Then add on an uplift for inflation and extra COVID-19 work. Only after that will we accept your thanks.— Chris Armstrong (@cjarmstrong2) November 5, 2020
As someone who works as a Pharmacy Assistant we defo deserve better— Hardeep #SuperCampaigner (@Hardeep216) November 5, 2020
Government should have been quicker off the mark and the massive cuts to Pharmacies and Public health infrastructure should have been reversed