PDA launches online reporting tool to gather data on pharmacy closures

The volumes of incidents where contractors choose to close pharmacies rather than engage an available locum, appear to be reaching epidemic proportions, and pharmacists are concerned about the impact on patients, as well as the damage this does to the reputation of the profession. The PDA is therefore asking pharmacists to help collate information about when and where these closures are occuring.

Fri 13th August 2021 The PDA

The PDA has launched an online tool in response to a dramatic increase in the volume of incidents where the union is being advised that pharmacy contractors are choosing to close, rather than agree rates with an available locum. Employed and locum pharmacists are encouraged to use an online tool to report information about where and when closures are happening.

As well as dispensing vital medication to the public, the NHS rightly encourages people to visit pharmacies as the first port of call for expert health advice and treatment. Based on statistics provided by the PSNC, on average over 100 people will visit each pharmacy in England for health reasons every day*. Although the PDA has raised concerns about closures before which can be found here, the current volume of reports seems to be reaching record levels.

In rural communities, closure can mean patients have no realistic alternative and even in urban areas where other pharmacies may not be too far away, if prescribed medicines are waiting for collection inside a locked pharmacy, then a patient has limited options other than return to the pharmacy when it is open. This can be extremely difficult for some individuals and vulnerable patients accessing commissioned services, including those with substance dependencies, may be particularly affected by closures.

The PDA online tool was initially piloted in Scotland with a communication to PDA members working there. In the first week, over 50 reports of closures were made, with more than 90% of those reporting closures saying they believe that it had a significant impact on patients.

The closures being reported to the PDA are almost exclusively at branches of Company Chemists Association members, the largest pharmacy chains in the country.  Though the online tool has only been promoted in Scotland, the PDA is also aware of closures in England.

Are closures being reported to the NHS?

It is the responsibility of the NHS to monitor the opening of pharmacies in accordance with the contract, this is centralised by NHS England and devolved to the Health Boards in Scotland and Wales. The NHS needs to be notified about closures, hence contractors are required to advise if they are closed for all or part of their agreed hours.

However, the PDA is aware that at least two Health boards in Scotland, along with Greater Manchester Local Pharmaceutical Committee in England, have recently considered it necessary to remind contractors that they must report closures. This suggests there is some question of whether closures were being properly reported.

If a community pharmacy employer is failing to meet their contractual arrangement with the NHS, this is an issue of contractual breach between those parties, however where there is any doubt a contractor will report their own closure, others can also report the incident. In response to requests from pharmacists, the PDA previously created a form to assist such reporting to the NHS which can be viewed here. This form is for England, however the same principles apply elsewhere.

NB: The new online tool enables the PDA to gather data on closures and you can notify the PDA of closures here.

Contractors create the environment they are asking locums to work within

Employers have the most influence on the physical, cultural and economic environment in which employees and locums are asked to work. The PDA are aware some locums prefer not to work for some multiples or in certain stores due to their previous experience of that employer.  It should be no surprise that if, for example, a locum discovers a contractor does not adequately resource a branch and therefore the locum has concerns about safety, or where a locum has been threatened with a referral to the regulator because they asked for a higher rate, that locum may decline to work for that contractor or in that branch on future occasions.

Despite this, even such companies/branches still seem to have access to some locums who will agree to work there, for an appropriate rate.  The PDA has seen evidence of communications between locums and contractors discussing rates for a particular shift which have ultimately not been agreed and instead, the contractor has chosen to close the pharmacy.  In one example, the difference in rates offered and an alternative rate deemed acceptable was just £1 per hour, meaning for less than £10 extra on the total cost for the entire day, the contractor instead opted to close.  The following tweet shared multiple times on social media, is a recent example of a contractor apparently deciding to close rather than pay an appropriate rate.

Action is needed

As the independent and trusted representative of employed and locum pharmacists, members bring many of their concerns to their union. The PDA believes that the actions of employers, that could still open but instead choose to systematically close pharmacies, are potentially damaging the reputation of the entire community pharmacy sector, and of the profession. The PDA believes that undermining the public’s confidence in the reliability of bricks and mortar community pharmacy should be unacceptable.

The PDA is calling on pharmacy contractors to comply with their NHS contract for the benefit of patients, the profession and the reputation of the sector, and believes that the employers’ representative bodies, such as the Company Chemists Association, should support that call.

The NHS and Pharmacy Ministers across the UK should also be looking into this worrying trend and ensuring patients are able to access their local pharmacy

 

REPORT A CLOSURE NOW

 

*1.2 million patient visits per day for health reasons, across 11,700 pharmacies in England.

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