Minister Jo Churchill has expressed her gratitude to community pharmacy teams nationwide for providing an outstanding response to patients in challenging circumstances during the coronavirus outbreak.
In her first open letter to pharmacy professionals, Churchill wrote: “The Government as a whole recognises that community pharmacy teams are on the frontline in providing medicines and health advice to many people.
“We also recognise the immense contribution being made by pharmacists in hospitals, GP surgeries and Clinical Commissioning Groups, your work is critical to the safe care of patients.”
She said, having visited and spoken to pharmacists regularly, she understood their concerns and that she was committed to “getting what you need to do the best for the people you serve.”
The pharmacy minister continued: “We recognise there are multiple challenges. Following changes to working practices across healthcare, community pharmacists are now, more than ever, the first point of contact with the health system for many people.
“I am also aware of the long hours that pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and all pharmacy staff are working across the system.
“Our response to these concerns about front facing opening hours is that there is now flexibility in place to allow community pharmacies to regulate their hours to allow individual decision making on the best way to run their business.
The minister also gave details of her recent meetings and interactions with leaders of the pharmacy negotiator PSNC and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. They talked about a range of things that the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS could do to support community pharmacy to ensure sustainability over the coming months, she said.
“There are ongoing discussions about what more can be done to support you including making funding available to help you with COVID pressures and the new services we are asking of community pharmacy during this time.
“I have also been listening to your concerns about capacity in community pharmacy.”
The letter listed recent achievements which included reducing the burden of bureaucracy on pharmacies; delaying the introduction of new services; reducing workload, putting in place a new backstop medicines delivery service to support the 1.4 million ‘shielded’ patients; and getting the “key workers” status confirmed for pharmacy teams.
Churchill concluded by saying: “I know that there are more things to do and I am doing everything I can at pace to make these improvements. You are delivering a vital service for patients in the most challenging circumstances, and I will continue to support your efforts however I can.”