The service will be overseen by the Community Development and Health Network (CDHN), which will coordinate volunteer organisations to support community pharmacies, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland (DH) said earlier this week (April 15).
The CDHN explained that the service is designed to ensure the “safe delivery of medication to people who cannot collect it themselves”.
This includes shielded or self-isolating patients; those who normally have medicines delivered; patients who contact the pharmacy requesting a delivery; prescriptions marked by a GP practice as needing to be delivered; and patients who contact a participating voluntary or community organisation and meet the delivery criteria – according to the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the service.
All volunteers taking part must be registered with a local community or voluntary organisation that works with the CDHN. The organisations have to ensure volunteers are Access NI vetted – ie that they have had a criminal record check – and that they are insured and supported to complete deliveries, according to the SOP.
The SOP also states that the community organisations are responsible for ensuring volunteers are “not from, or living with, any of the identified at risk groups, ”have been suitably trained, and sign a confidentiality agreement.
“Obligation” to ensure checks are made
The launch of the service follows the introduction of the pandemic delivery service in England. This also requires pharmacies to draw on the support of volunteers to deliver medicines to shielded patients – “extremely vulnerable patients” who are protecting themselves against the coronavirus outbreak by “self-isolating at home”.
However in England, as well as using volunteers from local community organisations, pharmacies are being encouraged to work with the 750,000 members of the public who signed up to the NHS Volunteer Responders initiative via the GoodSam app.
Under guidance published by the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Services Committee (PSNC), pharmacies have been told they have an “obligation” to ensure that any volunteer they use is appropriate for the role and that “other checks have been made, such as the individual having had a recent disclosure and barring service check”.
In a joint statement earlier this week (April 15), the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society also said that pharmacy professionals who use volunteers “in good faith” will not “be regarded as responsible by [either organisation]” for the helpers’ actions.
Similar to in England, pharmacists in Northern Ireland are being told to consider if there are appropriate alternatives to using volunteers, such as medicines collection by a neighbour, friend or family member. They should also use “professional judgment and take a patient-centred approach to identify patients who need the delivery service,” the SOP states.
Under the SOP, pharmacies must obtain consent from patients for delivery and are advised to consider recording delivery requests and the origin of the request – such as if it comes from the patient or their GP – on the patient medication record.
There are also a number of responsibilities for pharmacies around the delivery process, including checking volunteers’ identification, signing them in and out on completion of their delivery work, and providing gloves and hand sanitiser if possible.
As well as assisting with deliveries, volunteers may also be used to help with controlling the number of patients allowed into pharmacies in line with social distancing measures, the DH said.
Commenting on the service, Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann said: “This new network of volunteers will ensure that all patients will continue to get their medicines.
“We have already seen an excellent response from all sections of society to help the fight back against Covid-19. This is another excellent example of voluntary action helping those in need and I commend the CDHN and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) in delivering this.”
Joe Brogan, head of pharmacy and medicines management at the HSCB, added: “CDHN is a well-established organisation with good relationships with local volunteers and community organisations. Through those contacts, patients who are unable to visit their local pharmacy will continue to have access to their medicines.”