NHS England is determined to give pharmacies “more notice” on bank holiday openings in May than it did for the Easter holidays, Ed Waller, director for primary care strategy at NHS England and Improvement, said at a community pharmacy-focussed webinar yesterday (April 22).
The NHS will try to “strike the right balance” between having a consistent national message on opening hours and allowing for flexibility locally, in “the same way we did at Easter”, Mr Waller added.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is "seeking terms similar to those put in place for Easter and has requested that a decision is made as soon as practicable because contractors have limited time to make the necessary staffing arrangements," Gordon Hockey, PSNC’s director of operations, told C+D today (April 23).
“Significant number” of scripts
Data shows that “a significant number [of scripts] were written on the two bank holidays over Easter”, Mr Waller said.
He added that this is informing “our decision-making” on opening over the May bank holidays, but said NHS England is also considering the feedback it has received from the sector's representative bodies.
More pharmacies than usual might be needed to open on May 8 and May 25, “and something akin to what happened at Easter will probably be happening”, Mr Waller said.
He added that this is “fair warning to people that that’s what’s coming at the moment”.
Not a “final decision”
However, Mr Waller clarified that a “debate with others”, including the PSNC and the government, is required before “a final decision” on the May bank holiday opening hours can be reached.
“We are not in a position to say today what the precise answer is, I’m sorry”, he added.
The NHS has powers to require pharmacies to change their opening hours under the National Health Service (Amendments Relating to the Provision of Primary Care Services During a Pandemic etc.) Regulations 2020.
Earlier this month, pharmacies in England were asked to open from 2pm to 5pm on Good Friday and Easter Monday, a decision that was announced with just a week's notice and met with frustration by the sector.
At the time, the PSNC had said that the decision had “been made unilaterally” by NHS England.
Contractors can claim £250 for each of the three hours they were asked to open over the Easter bank holiday, using the manage your service portal. They can submit their claims until May 5 and are expected to receive their payments on June 1.