"We are now forced to open on Band Holidays when our teams desperately need a rest"

A London pharmacist asks how he is expected to convince his staff to work at normal rates on a bank holiday after NHS “unilaterally” told pharmacies in England to open from 2pm to 5pm on Good Friday and Easter Monday.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) said that contractors were “required” to stick to these times and would be able to claim additional payment for the extra hours. However, these rates would be based on normal working days rather than bank holidays, it added.

The requirement is being made under the new National Health Service Regulations 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘How is that fair’

A pharmacy owner in East London said: “We are now forced to open on Bank Holidays when our teams desperately need a rest [after more than three weeks of massive rush], and yet this has been deemed a normal working day for us.

“GPs get to consult from home, most of the population is at home and we are forced to bring in our teams to work? How is that fair?”

In its latest Covid-19 Primary Care Bulletin, the NHS said pharmacies already planning to open for longer hours should do so and those in areas where there is minimal demand – i.e. pharmacies based within large shopping malls – can seek an exemption.

The NHSE&I regional office must be notified if a pharmacy cannot open “for reasons beyond the control of the contractor.”

Unilateral decision by NHSE&I

Reacting to the announcement, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that the decision to require all pharmacies to open has been made unilaterally by NHS&I to support GPs who will remain open on Good Friday and Easter Monday due to the pandemic.

It has argued against this requirement on the grounds that there would already be sufficient numbers of pharmacies open under the usual Bank Holiday arrangements.

“Our understanding is that between a third and a quarter of the network is open on those two days already and some local NHSE&I teams have already made additional provision for local needs,” the negotiator noted.

Simon Dukes, its chief executive, said that the negotiator was arguing for full bank holiday funding.

“Any decision to treat the Bank Holidays as normal days fails to recognise the legal responsibilities that employers have to pay enhanced rates for work on these days, and we are trying to change their minds on this,” he said.

“We have made clear to NHSE&I just how disruptive making a decision like this on less than a week’s notice is for businesses, pharmacy teams, and their own families who also rely on them. Pharmacy teams had been holding on for this break and we are concerned that there may be an increase in temporary closures now that contractors have to manage workload pressures and staff exhaustion without the Easter break,” he added.

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