New data has revealed that a record number of prescription medicines were dispensed from pharmacies in England in March this year, amid patients growing fears surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and a virus-induced lockdown.

Analysis of the data from the NHS Business Service Authority has found that March 2020 had been the busiest month on record for dispensing.

The sector dispensed 92.8 million items in March, showing a rise of more than seven million in the same month the previous year. The increase in demand for medications came as patients faced lockdown and feared drug shortages as a result of coronavirus.

There was also a rise in the number of items dispensed using the electronic prescription service (EPS) since the service’s full roll-out in October.

In March, over 82% of all prescriptions in England were managed and processed through the electronic prescription service, showing a 12% jump since October last year, when just 70% of prescriptions were prescribed and dispensed through EPS.

Pharmacists have reported receiving more electronic prescriptions since lockdown began at the end of March.

Company Chemist Association (CCA) chief executive, Malcolm Harrison, spoke of how the recent data reflected how quickly community pharmacies have managed to 'adapt' to new challenges faced since the pandemic hit the UK.

‘There was a record increase in demand for medicines in March as people wanted supplies of their regular, and sometimes not so regular, medicines to have in stock at home.'

Mr Harrison described how community pharmacies went ‘above and beyond' to help out their patients, as many turned to local pharmacy when other areas of the health service shut their doors.

He said: ‘We’d now like to see our community pharmacy sector get fair funding from the Government for its work on the frontline of the NHS during the crisis.

‘Community pharmacies have stayed open throughout the pandemic and have needed to pay more for the medicines they supply and cover extra Covid-specific costs, such as providing PPE and extra cleaning.’

The sector was ‘already under significant financial pressures’ before the crisis and is now in need of immediate support from the Government, Mr Harrison said.

As it stands, the community pharmacy sector has been given a two-part £350 million cash injection to help ease cash flow issues experienced as a result of Covid-19 pressures.