Pharmacy industry leaders have voiced their concerns about the end of the declaration of emergency, which has allowed contractors to make temporary changes to opening hours or closures.

The measure, which was initially introduced in March 2020 to help maintain pharmacy services during the Covid-19 pandemic, ends today (31 March) despite a rise in Covid cases across the country.

However, the vice-chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Nick Kaye, said he believed it was too soon to be lifting emergency provisions because of current staffing shortages.

‘DHSC indicated that should there be a further wave of the pandemic, a new declaration of emergency would be considered. I think that’s the position we are in right now,’ he explained.

Covid cases have climbed by a million in a week in the UK, according to recent data from the Office of National Statistics.

Mr Kaye said the NPA has asked NHS England to take a ‘pragmatic view in terms of enforcement,’ and is calling on them to recognise ‘very real workforce challenges pertaining at this time’.

The NPA is suggesting that pharmacies take a ‘common-sense’ approach to pharmacy provision.

He said: ‘We need to retain the common-sense option to close if we can’t operate the pharmacy safely due to staff shortages.

‘No pharmacist and certainly no independent pharmacist wants to let their community down by closing unnecessarily. But neither should we be forced to offer patients a substandard and potentially unsafe service due to inadequate staffing.’

In a statement published today (31 March), the Company Chemists’ Association said it had ‘serious concerns’ regarding staff shortages within the sector, which may ‘force pharmacy teams to make difficult decisions of altering working hours to adhere to legislation’.

‘We urge NHS England to work with us and the sector to coordinate a comprehensive workforce plan and ensure patients can receive the care from community pharmacies that they have become accustomed to during the pandemic,’ they added.

This comes Government’s provision of free Covid tests in England also draws to a close.

Some pharmacies have said they are not planning to sell Covid tests beyond 1 April.