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Staffing issues not a reason to close pharmacies, says NHS policy

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Staffing issues not a reason to close pharmacies, says NHS policy

NHS policy does not currently state that staffing problems are sufficient grounds to close a pharmacy temporarily, the PSNC has warned.

In a briefing document issued to contractors after the expiration on March 31 of pandemic emergency powers that offered greater flexibility on opening hours, the negotiator said the current guidance suggests that NHS England & Improvement does not consider that pharmacy staffing is “beyond the control of contractors,” a key factor in determining whether closures are in breach of the terms of service.

The 2013 regulations, which PSNC says were drawn up “before the current acute workforce shortages in some areas of England,” make reference to “staff illness or other reasonable cause” such as minor flooding as providing sufficient grounds.

The NHSEI pharmacy manual specifically states that failure to arrange locum cover “where there was sufficient time to do so” is not considered to be a factor outside contractors’ control.

In a decision published on January 5 this year concerning a remedial notice issued to one pharmacy in Peterborough, disputes resolution body NHS Resolution stated: “I am of the view that a problem with the staffing of a pharmacy is not a reason beyond the control of the appellant as to why the appellant is not able to provide pharmaceutical services during its core or supplementary hours.”

The negotiator’s briefing also reminded contractors that in order to comply with the terms of service they should give local NHS teams notice of any closure and liaise with other pharmacies in the area to ensure patients can access pharmaceutical services.

Where the NHS decides that a breach of service has occurred but has not posed a risk to patients or caused “significant financial loss” to the health service, it will first seek to address the issue “informally”.

More serious cases may involve the imposition of breach or remedial notices, which can carry financial penalties for pharmacies, said the PSNC, adding that individual NHS regions “may have written policies” detailing their approach to unplanned closures.

The PSNC has said it is pushing for amendments to the pharmacy manual to recognise that “in some circumstances” difficulties sourcing locums, or other staffing issues, can be beyond a contractor’s control.                                               

The National Pharmacy Association recently urged the Government and NHSE&I to take a “pragmatic” stance on pharmacy closures, warning that many NPA members are struggling to source locum cover in what has been described as a sector-wide workforce crisis.

These workforce issues have been partly attributed to Covid-related absences and pharmacy staff migrating to primary care roles, though some more sceptical voices argue that disputes around pay rates and working conditions also play a role.

Pharmacy Network News has approached NHSE&I for more information.

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