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Pandemic delivery service puts saving money above patient and staff safety, pharmacists claim

By Isabel Shaw

17 Apr 2020

The Community Pharmacy Pandemic Delivery Service is ‘very unsafe’ and ‘totally unworkable’, because of the risk it poses to patients and staff, a pharmacy contractor has said.

The NHS scheme is also prioritising saving money over the safety of patients and pharmacy staff, pharmacy contractors have claimed.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) is requiring pharmacies across the country to engage non-DBS checked volunteers to deliver medicines to patients.

However, the use of non-DBS checked volunteers is a significant risk, argued Dorset contractor, Mike Hewitson. It also creates a significant amount of extra workload for pharmacy teams.

He said he is extremely frustrated with the new system.

‘They are avoiding putting money into community pharmacy at all costs’

Involving volunteers to deliver medicines to shielded patients avoids the need to offer pharmacies a fee, he suggests, but creates huge problems for community pharmacies.

‘The NHS are avoiding putting extra money into community pharmacy at all costs,’ he told The Pharmacist, ‘even if this means putting patient safety at risk and giving us even more work,’

The £5 remuneration fee paid to pharmacies per delivery, would not cover all delivery costs, Mr Hewitson suggested, ‘yet they are still avoiding paying even that.’

‘Volunteers should be a last resort, but instead the government is using them as a first-line,’ he said.

NHSE&I has said that pharmacy staff must only use their own delivery services to deliver medicines to patients if no volunteers are available.

‘Why are we trusting volunteers with sensitive private patient information?’

Contractors fear the potential consequences of giving out sensitive patient information to volunteers who have not been DBS checked, Mr Hewitson said.

‘The real risk here is that in a few months’ time we end up with many of our patients who have been adversely affected by fraud or been introduced to people who go on to commit abuse towards them.’

‘Why are we trusting volunteers with sensitive private patient information that could lead to this?’

According to the pandemic medicine delivery guidelines, it is a contractor’s responsibility to ensure each non-DBS NHS volunteer is suitable to help. This is a responsibility that Mr Hewitson says ‘isn’t fair’.

‘Us pharmacists essentially carry the vicarious liability for if something were to go wrong when a volunteer is involved. Not only are we now responsible for these volunteers, but we are doing even more work to ensure they are safe.’

The service is ‘very difficult to operationalise’

He explained how the new service – intended to ease the burden of a high workload – can actually have the adverse effect. The schme is ‘very difficult to operationalise,’ he suggested.

‘We have to go through this really long process when a patient calls up for a delivery. We first have to check with the patient to see if they have anyone who can pick it up for them. If they don’t we have to help the patient look for a volunteer. Then we have to deliver the medication ourselves.’

PSNC has acknowledged the complexity of involving volunteers in the service.

‘The delivery service requirements are not as simple as PSNC would have liked them to be, but people at the top of the Government and the NHS are insistent that the massive volunteering response from the population must be utilised during this pandemic.

‘As a consequence of this, incorporating the use of volunteers alongside normal pharmacy delivery systems has meant that agreeing on a straightforward set of service requirements was not possible.’

‘It’s a cop-out service’

Director of Allisons Chemist in Cockermouth, Nat Mitchell, agreed and said he believed the volunteer service was ‘completely unnecessary.’

‘Most pharmacies have delivery systems in place already, so don’t really need this,’ he said.

‘It seems like the government has realised that there are lots of vulnerable people out there now who do need their medication delivered, but they don’t want to pay community pharmacy any more money to do it.

‘It’s a cop-out service, which seems convoluted and doesn’t seem to be efficient or safe in any way,’ he said.

Some contractors have already decided against using NHS volunteers, as they believe the risk to be too high for their patients.

Many pharmacy contractors have been disappointed over the government’s £300m advance payment to support pharmacy businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, which pharmacies will need to repay.

What’s happening in your area? Contact Isabel at with any information that would be useful for us to share with community pharmacy colleagues

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