Many pharmacy teams and pharmacy bodies have expressed dissatisfaction with the NHS announcement that all community pharmacies in England must remain open over this Easter weekend, as part of the NHS’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) is requiring all community pharmacies in England to be open from 2pm to 5pm on 10 April 2020 (Good Friday) and 13 April 2020 (Easter Monday), in order to support GP surgeries, which will also be open.  

Professional development manager and pharmacist at Kamsons pharmacy, - a group of over 70 pharmacies in England, - Mark Donaghy, told The Pharmacist that he was concerned for the wellbeing of his staff.

‘They’re exhausted. This has been the busiest three weeks in pharmacy I’ve ever experienced, and now my staff will have to work even more with only four days' warning.’ 

He questioned the need for all community pharmacies to remain open during this extra period. ‘It’s unnecessary, because many supermarkets and large chain pharmacies like Boots will remain open, there will be enough places for people to go and get their emergency medication from.’

‘It would make more sense, and be more reasonable, if we were allowed to open in the morning instead,’ he also told The Pharmacist, commenting that ‘3pm on Good Friday is the most religious hour in the whole of the Christian calendar.’

Fair funding due

PSNC has argued this with the NHS, saying that there will be a sufficient number of pharmacies open under usual Bank Holiday arrangements, and it is unnecessary to require all community pharmacies in England to be open.

In a statement, PSNC Chief Executive Simon Dukes explained that the pharmacy body did not agree with the decision made by the NHS, after acknowledging pharmacies teams are in ‘desperate need of this break’ he noted that the body is in negotiations with the NHS to ensure fair payments for the extra time worked. 

He said: ‘We will be putting a case to NHSE&I for fair funding to cover contractors’ costs for these opening hours. Any decision to treat the Bank Holidays as normal days fails to recognise the legal responsibilities that employers have to pay enhanced rates for work on these days, and we are trying to change their minds on this.

‘We have made clear to NHSE&I just how disruptive deciding this on less than a week’s notice is for businesses, pharmacy teams, and their own families who also rely on them. 

‘Pharmacy teams had been holding on for this break and we are concerned that there may be an increase in temporary closures now that contractors have to manage workload pressures and staff exhaustion without the Easter break.’

GP practices are to receive funding to cover additional costs of opening over the Easter weekend. 

At the frontline

Director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), Paul Day, told The Pharmacist that the new holiday opening times are ‘a symptom of the fact that community pharmacy is at the very front line of health provisions during this period.’

He also suggested that some difficulty with the plan was the result of long-term underfunding of the sector. 

‘Pharmacies are being asked to work to unsustainable levels, which the government isn’t funding properly. If the government had been funding community pharmacy better, they could more efficiently make arrangements for community pharmacy to be open over holidays like this one,’ he said.  

Meanwhile, pharmacy contractors have taken to social media to voice frustration and disappointment over the government’s £300m advance payment to support pharmacy businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.