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Scottish Government allow private business owners to deny patients access to pharmacies

The PDA is concerned that decisions made by some Health Boards in Scotland allow pharmacy owners to close their pharmacies on Saturdays, regardless of any negative impact on patients and other parts of the NHS including neighbouring pharmacies, addiction and mental health services, and minor injury and A&E units. The PDA has been raising concerns with the Scottish Government about pharmacy closures for a considerable time and yet closures have been allowed to continue.

Wed 13th July 2022 The PDA

There is a myth widely promoted by some employers that there are insufficient pharmacists available to staff community pharmacies. Reality shows that record numbers of registered pharmacists are available to work, while workforce and wellbeing studies demonstrate that too few pharmacists are prepared to work in the poor conditions offered in some community pharmacies. The “shortage” of those prepared to work in these environments is further aggravated by the pharmacy owners self-imposing maximum rates for locum pharmacists offering to work for them. 

Some companies who operate Scottish pharmacies are making commercial decisions based on profit which seem to have taken no account of patient and community needs and ignored their contracted arrangements with NHS Scotland.

The business owners may claim there is a shortage of pharmacists, but when they actively cancel agreed hours of work it does not suggest there is a shortfall of workers. These business decisions often include closing their pharmacies at very short notice, even when pharmacists are available and willing to work. In some examples existing pharmacy staff have been redeployed elsewhere, in other examples, locum pharmacists have had their existing bookings cancelled.

Community pharmacies are the most accessible part of Scotland’s health service, they are embedded in every community, and when open provide a health facility where even those not registered with a Scottish GP can speak to a qualified health professional and receive treatment and appropriate advice without an appointment.

When a pharmacy is unnecessarily closed it often means patients and carers have severe difficulties in accessing the critical medicines and services they need. Often the only way a patient can then resolve their situation is to add to the already high levels of strain and workload on other parts of the health system.

Recent decisions made by some Health Boards have invited private business owners to close their pharmacies when they wish to on Saturdays in July and August, this has invited commercial managers headquartered outside Scotland to make decisions on closure which may overrule their own pharmacists. These decisions are seemingly made without considering the needs of patients and do not take any account of the consequences for the wider NHS. In Ayrshire, one national pharmacy chain has given notice to the Health Board of their intention to close all their pharmacies on Saturdays, even in communities where there is no other pharmacy readily accessible to patients.

The PDA does believe that Scottish Government and its NHS Boards are generally on the side of Scotland’s patients and communities, but to that end, they must all take necessary steps to ensure pharmacies remain open, when and where they are needed.

The needs of patients are paramount and must never be compromised by the needs of business. The PDA is calling on the Scottish government to end unnecessary pharmacy closures and introduce emergency regulations to force the for-profit companies that operate Scotland’s pharmacies to open on the days and hours they have agreed.  Failure to do so should result in financial sanction where necessary on the business, with the NHS ultimately having the option to take failing pharmacies into Special Measures control, where the operation of that pharmacy is taken over by NHS Scotland, if necessary.

The PDA says that ill effects of unwarranted community pharmacy closures are bad for patients and carers, bad for the pharmacy network, and bad for the rest of NHS Scotland and that the Scottish government must act now!

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