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Closures crisis benefits no one


Closures crisis benefits no one

Rising numbers of temporary pharmacy closures are bitterly dividing opinion and crippling the sector, writes Pharmacy Magazine deputy editor Arthur Walsh

The biggest and most alarming story over the past two years has been the rise in pharmacies shutting their doors to the public temporarily – sometimes for a few hours, but increasingly for longer.

This just did not happen on anything like the same scale prior to 2020, and it should not be happening now. Local newspapers throughout the UK are full of reports of worried patients left waiting for vital medicines. NHS bodies in some regions are threatening pharmacies with sanctions if they fail to open for their contracted hours.

The larger multiples, which appear to be disproportionately implicated, say that along with every other health sector, community pharmacy is battling severe workforce shortages. We cannot open without a pharmacist, they say.

There is some truth to this. Independent pharmacies say they too are struggling to fill full-time and temporary positions, partly because so many pharmacists are leaving for NHS primary care roles (3,284 by the end of June in England).

But in some cases this is not the whole story. Recent reports of pharmacy chains planning a series of closures on days for which locum cover had apparently already been booked have raised eyebrows, to put it mildly.

On the other side of the equation, many contractors say they simply cannot keep up with rising locum rates. Neither should it come as any surprise if many employee pharmacists reconsider their positions as the pay differential between themselves and locums continues to spiral, adding fuel to the fire.

This is hardening into an intractable standoff, as a glance at pharmacy Twitter will tell you. Perhaps the Government will cough up enough funding to wave these problems away. We live in hope.

However, in coming to rely on temporary closures as a routine way of managing its problems, the sector could have opened a Pandora’s box that it will struggle to shut.

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