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Pharmacy employers need to confirm contingency plans for potential power cuts

Pharmacists are beginning to ask employers what plans they have in the event of power cuts across the UK this winter.

Sun 23rd October 2022 The PDA

This month, the National Grid warned that the UK will be more likely to experience power cuts this winter if Russia shuts off gas supplies while the UK experiences extra demand for heating and lighting due to adverse seasonal weather. Pharmacists are therefore considering what this may mean for patients, for the operation of a pharmacy, and for the safe and secure management of medicines.

Some pharmacists have already told the PDA that although they have asked their manager, their employer does not yet seem to have planned for this possibility. Therefore, they are concerned that such occurrences could happen with no agreed contingency action prepared, leaving the frontline responsible pharmacist to deal with the consequences.

Many pharmacists around the world are used to practicing in conditions where continuous energy supply is not guaranteed. However, the PDA is mindful that pharmacists in the UK have almost all been fortunate enough to never face the lack of power supply, and so such an occurrence would be unfamiliar to them.

As one measure to avoid the risk of power cuts, the National Grid also announced proposals for how much people and businesses can be paid for shifting their electricity use outside peak times.

A spokesperson for the National Grid said, “We anticipate paying a rate of £3,000 per megawatt hour. Businesses and homes can become virtual power plants and, crucially, get paid like one too. For a consumer that could mean a typical household could save approximately £100, and industrial and commercial businesses with larger energy usage could save multiples of this.

“We are working with Ofgem to get this scheme launched in November and for it to be rolled out through energy suppliers. If you are interested in participating, or understanding what you could get paid, please contact your energy supplier.

At a time of a cost of living crisis, PDA members may be interested in this initiative. That scheme is one of several initiatives from the National Grid to mitigate against power cuts.

The National Grid has also said, “It is possible that without these measures, supply could be interrupted for some customers for limited periods of time. This could eventually force us to initiate a temporary rota of planned electricity outages, meaning that some customers could be without power for up to three hours at a time through a process called the electricity supply emergency code (ESEC).

“Under the ESEC process, we would advise the public the day before any disconnections. We are working with government and industry on planning for this so that the message can be spread across all communities as quickly and accurately as possible. This would include press conferences, social media campaigns, and working with influencers in different communities”

Though the National Grid says they will protect hospitals from the impact of power cuts, other locations, such as community pharmacies, might be affected by power cuts impacting their local area.

Following inquiries by the PDA, the Scottish Government has confirmed that, in this scenario, the overall responsibility for the NHS is with the Scottish Government Health Resilience group, who are working with all parts of the Health and Social Care Directorate on preparedness. They are currently putting in place the necessary planning for the NHS in Scotland, including a review of the civil contingencies list. They have also confirmed that all primary care contractors should, as a matter of course have business continuity plans and be engaging locally with their Health Boards as appropriate. The NHS in the other UK nations should also be taking similar steps.

The PDA calls on all pharmacy employers, including NHS, community pharmacy, and GP practices, to consider this possibility now and consider their business continuity plans for such an event. The Employers should communicate these plans to reassure pharmacists and other staff, in order to keep them safe at work, and to minimise disruption to patients.


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