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No more free work: Pharmacists reject ‘strike breaking’ reports


No more free work: Pharmacists reject ‘strike breaking’ reports

Community pharmacists in England have criticised reports in the national press suggesting they may be given an enhanced role in order to lessen the impact of strike action by nurses and other health workers.

The Telegraph reported on Saturday December 3 that ministers were considering plans that would see pharmacists “drafted in to help break strike action and ease winter pressures,” such as through the diagnosis of minor ailments or prescribing antibiotics.

The newspaper framed this in the context of Government efforts to mitigate the impact of upcoming industrial action by nurses, ambulance workers and hospital staff on December 20.

However, it added that such plans are “unlikely to be deployed before Christmas” due to the time needed to train staff and “arrange NHS contracts for private pharmacies”.

Asked in a Sky News interview yesterday whether the Government was planning to use pharmacists to bolster NHS operations during planned strike action, Conservative party chair Nadhim Zahawi did not confirm or deny the reports but said the health service “will look at all contingency planning to make sure patients get the urgent treatment they need”.

Pharmacists and representative bodies were critical of the reports over the weekend, arguing that while enhanced roles for pharmacy teams have been discussed for some time the sector is not in a position to take on more unfunded work at short notice.

Contractor and PSNC regional representative Fin McCaul told the Independent : “To take this on with no increase in core funding, with no new funding, would be categorically impossible… we’re not even funded enough to do the core [contractual services].” 

Mr McCaul said that while it “would make far more sense” for pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe for minor ailments, “just like nurses and doctors, community pharmacists are grossly underfunded”.

He added: “And has the Government come and asked us to do this? Not a hope.”

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “We just simply cannot do it without additional funding. We cannot be asked by the NHS to do more and more work for free. It’s just not happening.”

NPA chair Andrew Lane said: “For years now, community pharmacies have been asked to do more and more for less and less. Our capacity no longer matches the demands made of the sector, and changes to opening hours are one inevitable consequence.

“It stands to reason that if the current financial envelope is too small to sustain current service levels, it cannot support new NHS developments like the much-trailed ‘pharmacy first’ scheme for common ailments. Let’s call time on the more for less funding formula which has blighted the sector for far too long.”

Contractor and NPA board member Reena Barai added: “Ironically this is something we’ve been asking for for months already, but… the Treasury haven’t come forward with the funding for this really valuable service.

“To add this sort of level of service to what we’re already doing – it would buckle the whole sector.”

PSNC chief Janet Morrison commented: “Pharmacy teams are in the same position as their health service colleagues – exhausted, overworked and struggling to make ends meet. 

“If Government wants pharmacies to step up again, they will need to back this with emergency funding and support.”

Company Chemists' Association chief executive Malcolm Harrison said: “We welcome plans for a Pharmacy First scheme in England.

"However, after eight years of funding cuts, the pressures on community pharmacies are simply untenable. Spiralling inflation, rising costs of medicines and workforce shortages has put the pharmacy network on the brink. The Government’s plans must be funded appropriately – pharmacies cannot ride to the rescue for free.”

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