The declaration of emergency which allows the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services has been extended until 31 January 2022.

The measure was initially introduced in March 2020 to help maintain pharmacy services during the Covid-19 pandemic. The end date of the provision has now been extended from 30 September 2021 to the end of January.

It will enable contractors to make temporary changes to their opening hours or temporary closures where needed.

However, the provision says contractors must give adequate reasons for the changes to NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I), give 24 hours’ notice of the changes or closures, and ensure NHSE&I has agreed or not objected to these measures beforehand.

If 24 hours have passed after notice was given, contractors are allowed to start the flexible provision or changed opening hours, however if the request is later refused, they must revert back to normal working hours.

The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) announcement reminded contractors that in the case of a temporary closure of a pharmacy premises, that a dispensing doctor may be required to provide pharmaceutical services to patients to ‘maintain the adequate provision of pharmaceutical services’.

In August, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) called on pharmacy contractors to report their closures to the NHS and suggested there had been a ‘dramatic increase’ in the number of unscheduled closures across the UK.

It comes after the DHSC launched a consultation on whether it should extend provision of free personal protective equipment (PPE) to the health and care sector beyond 31 March 2022.

The consultation will seek views on whether the centrally provided PPE should end as planned in March, or be extended for a further 12 months. Pharmacy teams would be among those who could continue to be eligible for the equipment.

Access to free PPE was initially only available to general practice and small care homes, and this was later expanded to include community pharmacy in August 2020.