Community pharmacies are “now, more than ever, the first point of contact with the health system for many people”, Ms Churchill said in the letter, which was shared with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) last week (April 3).
Ms Churchill said she is aware that pharmacy teams are working “long hours” to meet demand, which is why action was taken to increase community pharmacies’ flexibility when it comes to “front facing opening hours”.
“This allows pharmacists to focus on dispensing prescriptions and giving advice over the phone,” Ms Churchill wrote.
Ms Churchill said she has met with PSNC CEO Simon Dukes and Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley to discuss how the government can support community pharmacy during this time.
“There are ongoing discussions about what more can be done to support you, including making funding available to help you with COVID pressures and the new services we are asking of community pharmacy during this time,” she said.
“I have also been listening to your concerns about capacity in community pharmacy.”
“Delivering a vital service for patients”
Some measures have already been adopted to alleviate the pressure on community pharmacy, Ms Churchill added. Among these, she mentioned delaying the launch of new services and fast-tracking legislation to enable community pharmacists to supply medicines without a prescription in cases where the patient has previously been issued with the medication. This legislative change could also be extended to include controlled drugs in schedule 2, 3 and part 1 of schedule 4.
“I know that there are more things to do and I am doing everything I can at pace to make these improvements. You are delivering a vital service for patients in the most challenging circumstances, and I will continue to support your efforts however I can,” Ms Churchill said.
Community pharmacies in England were paid £200 million on April 1 as an advance payment and are set to receive a further £100m on May 1. The funding, Ms Churchill said last week (April 2), will support the sector “as we continue to assess the full additional impact of coronavirus on community pharmacy”.