PSNC urges Government to support all pharmacies through COVID-19 booster push

PSNC has warned HM Government and the NHS of the need to provide further support for all community pharmacies as we head into what will be an extremely challenging winter period.

Contractors are already reporting mounting pressures, particularly with ongoing workforce problems and the associated capacity issues and rise in staffing costs, and PSNC is concerned that this will not be sustainable through another challenging winter.

PSNC supports the Government’s objectives on booster vaccinations and has made clear that pharmacies want to do all that they can to help. For some, this could include becoming new COVID-19 vaccination sites, and we would strongly support the approval of more pharmacy sites.

But in talks this week, we have pressed NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to recognise the impact of the vaccination programme on all community pharmacies.

While those pharmacies offering COVID-19 vaccinations will be asked to divert more resources to that programme, posing challenges of its own, other pharmacies can also expect an increase in activity as the focus on booster vaccinations absorbs more of their colleagues’ and general practice time.

With around 80% of general practices offering COVID-19 vaccinations and now being asked to ramp up their efforts, pharmacies can expect the current trend in increasing walk-in and phone call requests for advice and support from patients to be exacerbated. And all parts of primary care will also feel the resource pinch, as more people and time are devoted to the critical vaccination programme.

PSNC is seeking additional support to ease the pressure on all contractors, including those offering COVID-19 vaccinations. This could include through regulatory support, the removal of administrative burdens and changes to the current Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS).

We believe such measures would be in line with the support being given to general practice, while recognising that there are fewer pharmacy than GP-led vaccination sites at the moment.

Help PSNC to gather evidence

In the coming weeks PSNC will be launching a pharmacy pressures survey, and we will be repeating our Pharmacy Advice Audit in the New Year. Both these initiatives will provide invaluable evidence to inform our conversations with Government and help to demonstrate the urgent need for intervention to support pharmacies. Further information will be released in due course, and contractors are thanked in advance for their support for this important evidence-gathering process.

PSNC Vice Chair and independent contractor Bharat Patel, said:

“Pharmacies have been there for local communities throughout the pandemic and this will continue – our doors remain open to anyone in need. But pressures on pharmacy teams are mounting, and we urgently need the NHS and Government to take steps to relieve this to help us continue to do what we do best – helping every patient who walks through our doors, whatever they need.”

Clare Kerr, Head of Healthcare Policy & Strategy at McKesson UK and a member of PSNC’s Negotiating Team, said:

“We all know the scale of the current crisis, and we support the Secretary of State’s direction this week that delivering the booster campaign must become the health service’s mission. Many more pharmacies would be willing to help by becoming vaccination centres.

But this combined effort by the health service will put yet more pressure on primary care. All pharmacies want to play their part in this mission – whether by vaccinating people or picking up displaced patients as GPs and others focus more of their resource onto the vaccination programme – but they need the backing and support of Government to reach their full potential to do so.”

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