Professor Claire Anderson

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has welcomed the Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s report highlighting the issues being faced by frontline healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the report ‘Delivering core NHS and care services during the pandemic and beyond,’ MPs have expressed concern about the effect of the pandemic on the physical and mental wellbeing of the NHS and social care workforce including community pharmacists.

The MPs say a compelling case has been made for a nationwide routine testing of all NHS staff and that they are yet to understand why it cannot be introduced.

Jeremy Hunt MP, chair of the committee, noted: “We are yet to understand why such a testing system cannot be introduced and why the disadvantages currently outweigh the advantages of doing so.”

Commenting on the report, RPS England chair Claire Anderson said: “I welcome the committee’s recognition of the huge contribution of health and care staff during the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19.

“Pharmacists are working hard on the frontline of this pandemic and I agree with the committee that more substantive action is needed to support staff wellbeing. This must include all pharmacists delivering NHS services.

“The report underlines the importance PPE and Covid-19 testing. It’s vital that pharmacies continue to be included in the Government’s PPE portal. With the second spike and winter pressures, pharmacy teams must get the support they need, wherever they work.”

Highlighting the importance of PPE kits, the report said that “it is important to recognise that different staff will require different types of PPE and there is a need to make sure that the PPE available is suitable for a diverse work force”.

It also requested for an update from the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) by the end of November on what steps are being taken to ensure that there is a consistent and reliable supply of appropriately fitting PPE to all NHS staff in advance of the onset of winter and a potential second wave.

Furthermore, amid rising number of Covid-19 cases, the committee has asked DH to provide a comprehensive update by the end of October on what steps are being taken and what steps will be taken in the future to manage the overall level of demand across health services.

The hard-hitting report also warned that that tens of thousands of patients could die because the NHS suspended a large proportion of normal care, specifically across cancer treatments, mental health services, dentistry services, GP services and elective surgery.

It urged DH to quickly introduce routines Covid-19 testing services for NHS staff members before the advent of winter flu season to prevent an unforeseen tragedy.

Support for BAME NHS staff

The report called for “a much-needed focus on supporting NHS staff from” black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background.

“Covid-19 has, regrettably, disproportionately harmed and resulted in excess BAME deaths. We welcome the introduction of risk assessments and other initiatives, as set out by Professor Steve Powis, which are being implemented to protect BAME NHS staff from the risk of catching coronavirus.

“We have also heard that some BAME NHS staff face discrimination and racism in the NHS and that, across the NHS, the levels of diversity must be improved. We accept Sir Simon Stevens’ comments that “there are systemic features to discrimination and racism, and the NHS is both part of the problem and part of the solution”.

“Nonetheless, it is unacceptable that any BAME NHS employee should face discrimination, harassment or racism when working for the NHS. It is clear that more must be done to ensure that all NHS staff—regardless of their race, ethnicity or cultural heritage—feel safe, confident and proud to work for the NHS.”

Commenting on the committee’s remarks on the plight of BAME healthcare staff members, Anderson said: “The committee rightly highlights on the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, including the need for risk assessments for staff.”

The report stressed that the NHS must increase its efforts to eradicate all forms of discrimination and racism from in its organisation. “We therefore recommend that NHSE&I provide a full and comprehensive definition of the “racism and discrimination” that it seeks to eradicate from the NHS.

“We invite NHSE&I and the Department for Health and Social Care to set out in detail its strategy to tackle racism and discrimination and to promote diversity in the NHS, including information on targets and deadlines by the end of 2020.”

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