The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) set out its manifesto yesterday at the House of Commons on better working conditions within pharmacy practice which included a series of commitments it believes will improve patient safety and standards in care.

Before an audience of politicians, community pharmacists and pharmacy leaders, the PDA unveiled its A Safer Pharmacies Charter which lays out seven commitments.

These include ensuring there is an independent second accuracy check of a medicine by a trained member of staff once it has been dispensed, that all staff are trained and competent to carry out pharmacy work and that patients have access to a pharmacist so they receive face-to-face expert advice on any medicines-related matter.

The charter calls for pharmacists to be able to take statutory and contractual rest breaks “and additional breaks as required to meet their professional obligations” and for pharmacists’ professional autonomy not to be hindered by organisational and other targets.

It also says pharmacists must be able to raise concerns without any fear of reprisals and be physically safe while working in the pharmacy – “a zero-tolerance approach will be taken to violence or abuse of pharmacists and other pharmacy staff,” the PDA said.

PDA chairman Mark Koziol (pictured) said: “We know patients benefit most when pharmacists focus on using their unique skills around medicines and doing what is most important to patient safety. From the thousand of episodes we deal with as a defence association we know that pharmacists are often hampered in doing this.

“Whilst the number of prescriptions are growing the resources they work in are getting smaller and smaller, staffing levels are reduced, trained staff removed to cover other parts of the pharmacy, targets to sell items or hit commercial imperatives are often forcibly imposed.

“And as soon as that service starts to break down mistakes may not be picked up and patients may endure harm.

“Pharmacists joined their vocation because they wanted to help patients but increasingly they are working in a system which they know can be sub-optimal, forced to work in a way where they must start to make decisions about perhaps taking shortcuts in safety procedures.

“This potentially exposes the public to unnecessary risk and places an intolerable burden on the mental health of pharmacists because they know they can put patients in harm’s way. Surely it shouldn’t be like this.”

Koziol stressed the PDA was keen to work with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to realise the charter’s recommendations but in what might have been thinly-veiled criticism of the regulator, who were represented at the event by its chief executive Duncan Rudkin and chairman Nigel Clarke, Koziol said: “If your mother was going into an operating theatre and you were told that the anaesthetist was on holiday but no arrangements had been made to secure a replacement, you would be very angry.

“If you were also told that a third of the operating staff would be working in accident and emergency because it was busier there instead but nevertheless the operation was still going ahead, you would be very, very upset.

“You wouldn’t tolerate it, the respective regulator wouldn’t allow it, so why should we tolerate this or similar in pharmacy?

“Why should we tolerate key members of dispensary staff being redeployed to the checkout? Why should we expect the pharmacist to work eight or 10 hours, sometimes even more, without any rest breaks whatsoever?”

Koziol also insisted the PDA will consult with employers and try and gain government support for the charter.

He added: “As healthcare professionals we all know that it is far more important to focus on the causes than the symptoms of condition. And this is a principle we would like the GPhC to adopt. What’s the point in disciplining the pharmacist for a dispensing error if the reasons why this error occurred are not being addressed or acted upon?

“The GPhC have always said the best way to protect patients is by underpinning the professionalism of pharmacists. We want the GPhC to support this charter. We want them to underpin the professionalism of pharmacists by actively encouraging employers to create the kind of working environments that lead to better, safer experiences for patients.”

Koziol said the PDA will try to get all pharmacy representative bodies to create “a combined advertising campaign” to drive awareness of the charter.