Pharmacy contractors have expressed concerns over the Community Pharmacy Pandemic Delivery Service, launched this month, with some saying they do not feel comfortable using NHS volunteers to deliver medicines.
NHS volunteers will not be DBS checked, and contractors will be responsible for ensuring safety checks on any NHS volunteers they use.
Owner of SG Barai Pharmacy in Sutton, Surrey, Reena Barai — who will not be using the free service — explained her fears over using volunteers.
‘To give a bag of medication to a complete stranger and send them off to deliver it to some of my most vulnerable patients would go against every professional standard I have, and everything I’ve ever worked towards.
‘I understand we’re in unprecedented times, but we’ve never been allowed to just give anyone a bag of medication.’
She will continue to use her own delivery drivers, and said that if she is ever in need of volunteers she would turn to a local group instead.
‘If I had to use a service it would be volunteers from my local volunteer centre. All of these volunteers are DBS checked and are very familiar with the area — and know many of the local people.
‘I’d feel a lot safer trusting these people than someone I don’t know from an app who is not DBS checked. After all the suggestion is that pharmacists are responsible if something goes wrong.’
One pharmacist added that he was worried about who might volunteer: ‘I’m sure there are drug dealers just waiting to sign up to this.’
What’s the legal position?
Although pharmacy contractors are legally responsible for volunteers, as long as contractors can prove they provided a basic level of guidance to the volunteer, they would not be held responsible if anything was to go wrong, Charles Russell Speechlys lawyer Noel Wardle, advised The Pharmacist.
However, pharmacies do need to ensure that volunteers are given the right information.
‘Pharmacists do need to take care and they need to provide some basic guidance to volunteers. If volunteers deliver medicines, contractors need to maintain an appropriate audit trail to make sure that medicines go to the right patient — as they would if they were using their own delivery driver,’ Mr Wardle advised.
The GPhC has said it will take the view that pharmacists using volunteers for delivery will not be held responsible for any mistake a volunteer makes.
Mr Wardle suggested that this clarification from the GPhC ‘should provide reassurance to pharmacists, so contractors should feel confident to use volunteers’. He added: ‘They are right in thinking that as a matter of law they are responsible, and therefore should take care, but not be unduly worried.’
Some pharmacists said they were fearful that volunteers, who ‘may not take their job seriously’ enough or who haven’t been trained properly, may hand out medications to the wrong patients, which in extreme cases could endanger lives.
‘It puts our patients in dangerous situations’
Director of Allisons Chemist in Cockermouth, Nat Mitchell, is also worried for the safety of his patients, explaining that the volunteer scheme might unnecessarily place already vulnerable people in life-threatening situations.
‘Letting just anyone collect medication is a risk – a risk pharmacists wouldn’t normally ever allow, because it puts our patients, many who are vulnerable, in dangerous situations.’
Although he thought the NHS volunteer service is needed and useful in some areas, it ‘doesn’t work for pharmacy’, Mr Mitchell suggested, because of the range of risks involved when handling medication.
What’s happening in your area? Contact Isabel at email@example.com with any information that would be useful for us to share with community pharmacy colleagues