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Health board warns contractors it may withhold pay over pharmacy closures

Pharmacy News

Health board warns contractors it may withhold pay over pharmacy closures

A health board in the west of Wales has warned pharmacy contractors that a new set of procedures – including withholding payments in some cases - is being introduced to deal with the ongoing issue of temporary pharmacy closures.

Hywel Dda University health board recently wrote to contractors advising them that as of June 1 it will review all breaches of terms of service against three key tests: whether contractors inform the health board of any suspension of services as soon as possible; whether they can show that the reason for the suspension was outside their control; and whether they can demonstrate they have taken “all reasonable measures to restart pharmaceutical services as soon as possible”.

In “many” recent cases where pharmacies have suspended services, the latter two tests have not been met, the health board said.

The steps within the procedure will be:

  • Informal discussion
  • Local dispute resolution
  • Remedial notices for breaches that can be remedied, such as failure to complete audits
  • Breach notices for those breaches that cannot be “made good”.

The health board said that the withholding of payment may be used alongside remedial or breach notice where this is “justified and appropriate”.

Pharmacy owners will be able to appeal against breach or remedial notices, and where pay has been withheld will be able to submit a claim for payment restoration if they take the required steps before a deadline set by the health board.

While Welsh health boards have had powers to impose sanctions on contractors since 2020, they have not yet been used in Hywel Dda.

The procedure is being introduced in an attempt to curb the rate of contractual breaches, which can include the failure to open within agreed contractual hours, failure to provide pharmaceutical services and failure to complete required actions such as audits and public health campaigns.

“The level of temporary suspensions of pharmaceutical services within Hywel Dda is at its highest ever level, and has been for several months,” the health board said.  

“A number of issues are contributing to this high level and include, staff sickness, Covid-19 symptoms & isolation and staff vacancies. 

“A reduction in the level of closures should be evident in the next few months with the decreasing Covid-19 cases in the community.”

The health board advised contractors: “A temporary suspension of pharmaceutical services for a reason that is beyond the control of a contractor, would not be a breach, provided that the health board has been notified of the suspension as soon as is practicable and all endeavours have been used to resume provision of service as soon as practicable.”

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association has been an outspoken critic of pharmacy chains closing their doors to the public temporarily. PDA director Paul Day told Pharmacy Network News:  “We’re pleased to see at least one health board is finally starting to take action against multiples making unnecessary closures.

“This is an issue of significant concern to pharmacists due to the risk and potential harm it does to patients.”

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