In recognition of increasing pressures experienced by pharmacy staff as the result of the outbreak of Covid-19, pharmacies in England are able to close their doors to the public for up to 2.5 hours per working day including lunch, NHS England and NHS Improvement have announced.

The updated SOP guideline, published over the weekend (22 March), is to be applied ‘at the discretion of the responsible pharmacist’ with the aim of delivering ‘the best care for patients and communities’, the updated measures said. Consideration should also be taken on ‘how to best protect and maximise capabilities of staff across practices and pharmacies’.

Greater flexibility in opening hours is intended to help pharmacy staff to manage fatigue and exhaustion as a result of current high workload pressure. This will help pharmacies to be able to stay open and continue to provide a service of care to their patients and the wider public, PSNC said.

‘All pharmacies will be expected, on every day they have contracted opening hours, to be open to the public between 10am and 12 noon and 2pm and 4pm as a minimum if these are contracted hours’, the NHS said.

‘100 hours pharmacies should be open from 10am-12pm and 2pm-6pm as a minimum’, they added.

When closed, pharmacies must place a sign on the door giving information about how to contact the pharmacy if urgent help is needed.

Pharmacies may wish to arrange to ‘buddy up’ with another local pharmacy to maintain access to pharmaceutical services in case of temporary closures, the NHS also suggested.

This update in Covid-19 guidance comes as stricter measures are imposed on the UK, leaving

Community pharmacies as one of a few essential services to remain open on UK high streets for the foreseeable future.

Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Duncan Rudkin, welcomed the updated guidelines.

He said: ‘We recognise that some pharmacies may need to adjust their opening hours or close for periods during the day to ensure that prescriptions are dispensed safely and that all staff can take necessary breaks.

‘If an NHS pharmacy decides that it needs to close for a period of time, they need to follow local NHS reporting and notification procedures and make clear to the public how long they’ll be closed for and where the nearest other pharmacy is.’

PSNC, the Company Chemists' Association (CCA), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) also welcomed the updated SOP and the new flexibility available to pharmacy staff.

‘The changes should help to ensure that pharmacies can stay open to the public, and that staff can work safely and are not fatigued by the current high workload and pressures associated with the Covid-19 outbreak. Pharmacy contractors are encouraged to make use of the provisions to support their staff,’ they said.

The updated Covid-19 guidance also noted that from this weekend, the NHS 111 online service would be making Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) referrals to community pharmacies where people need urgent access to their usual prescribed medicines.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government confirmed it will be rolling out coronavirus testing, starting next week, to community pharmacy teams.

Last week, The Pharmacist also reported that the GPhC had announced that pharmacists are now allowed paracetamol into smaller packs has been relaxed in light of supply shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic.