Pharmacists facing fitness to practise concerns at a time of ‘significant pressures’ on the sector should be assured that ‘context’ will be taken into account, pharmacy leaders have said.

In a joint communication issued yesterday, the UK’s four chief pharmaceutical officers (CPhOs) and the chief executives of the GPhC and PSNI assured that regulators will consider context including the working environment when a concern is raised about a pharmacist’s fitness to practise.

They also responded to ‘worrying reports’ of pharmacy teams experiencing abuse from members of the public, stressing that any abuse of pharmacy staff is ‘completely unacceptable’ and ‘robust action should be taken quickly in response to any incidents, including by law enforcement’.

This comes as pharmacy faces ‘high and sustained demands and pressures’, as well as ‘exceptional challenges’ such as the rise in Group A streptococcus infections, the letter acknowledged.

‘Use professional judgement’

The letter noted that pharmacists may face ‘difficult decisions’ in the coming months, but asked them to ‘use your professional judgement to assess and mitigate risk, and to deliver safe and effective care for your patients’.

It said that decisions should be informed regulatory standards, which were ‘designed to be adaptable and to provide a framework for decision-making in a wide range of situations’.

The letter also reassured pharmacists that ‘in the unlikely event’ that they were referred to their regulator, ‘they will consider the context you were working in at the time, including factors relating to the environment in which you were working and all relevant resources, guidelines, or protocols’.

It added that employers, educational supervisors, professional bodies and national health and social care organisations should also take the ‘challenging situations’ faced by pharmacists into account.

The letter also said that ‘cooperation and partnership working’ with other local pharmacy services, the wider multi-disciplinary team and with local leadership and NHS commissioning bodies, would be ‘vitally important’ over the coming months to ensure that patients could access care and medication.

Abuse of pharmacy staff ‘unacceptable’

The letter also responded to ‘worrying reports’ that pharmacy teams were experiencing violence and abuse from members of the public.

‘Any abuse of pharmacy staff is completely unacceptable and robust action should be quickly taken in response to any incidents, including by law enforcement,’ the letter read.

The letter said that the CPhOs and the regulators were working closely with professional bodies and local and national health and social care organisations ‘to consider what more we can all do to try to prevent abuse or violence’.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which has recently shared videos on social media encouraging patients to be kind to community pharmacy staff, said that 'winter always brings extra pressure for pharmacy teams and this year the antibiotic supply issues have been an additional factor.'

Its spokesperson added that 'any abuse is unacceptable', and that it was 'vital' that pharmacy teams were able to do their job safely and not feel threatened or in danger whilst at work. 'We hope that our Be Kind campaign has reminded the public to be patient and kind to pharmacy teams at a particularly challenging time,' they added.

The letter from the CPhOs and regulators also included links to resources to encourage patients to treat pharmacy staff with respect, and asked pharmacy owners to consider further steps they could take to reduce the risk of staff experiencing abuse or violence, and to support staff who may experience this.

‘Further challenges ahead’

The letter thanked pharmacists ‘for continuing to provide vital health services and person-centred care to patients and the public at a time of significant pressures’, including the ‘exceptional challenges’ posed by Group A streptococcus infections.

It added that ‘there will be further challenges ahead over the coming weeks and months’ which would likely be ‘exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities’.

‘We recognise that the impact on pharmacy teams both personally and professionally will be significant and potentially prolonged throughout the coming months’, the CPhOs and regulators wrote.

They also encouraged pharmacists to take care of their own well-being, suggesting that pharmacists should seek support from their employer and from NHS websites in each country.

The letter was signed by Andrew Evans, CPhO for Wales, Cathy Harrison, CPhO for Northern Ireland, Alison Strath, CPhO for Scotland, David Webb, CPhO for England, Trevor Patterson, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Duncan Rudkin, the chief excutive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).

Earlier this month, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned that pharmacies no longer have the capacity to match demand, and cannot sustain current service levels without extra funding.