Pharmacists in general practice have been warned against working outside their scope of practice or job description if GPs decide to take strike action in the coming weeks.

On Monday, our sister publication Pulse reported that the British Medical Association (BMA)’s GP Committee was planning an emergency meeting around Easter to discuss whether to take industrial action in response to the imposition of the latest GP contract.

Chair of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists Nathan Burley told The Pharmacist that it was ‘unsurprising’ that GPs were considering industrial action in wake of ‘skyrocketing demand and expectation’ facing primary care providers.

He said that while it was ‘wonderful for patients’ that primary care teams were becoming increasingly varied and multi-disciplinary, pharmacists working in Primary Care Networks (PCNs) or general practice should not take on work to cover any industrial action.

He said: ‘I would certainly hope that GP pharmacists working in PCNs or for NHS organisations are not asked to cover roles that are outside of scope of practice or job descriptions in the event of strike action.

‘Not only would this render the pharmacists potentially culpable in the event of adverse incident, but it undermines lawful industrial action taken by colleagues – always a last resort for any healthcare professional.’

Meanwhile, Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), said the PDA supports the right of health professionals to strike ‘if employers, including government, fail to resolve workplace disputes’.

‘We understand how difficult it is to simultaneously exercise those worker rights while also keeping patients safe,’ he added.

A guidance page on the PDA’s website emphasises that pharmacists should always prioritise patient safety in accordance with their professional duties, the NHS terms of service, and their employment contracts, and may therefore still need to work even though their colleagues are striking.

It encourages pharmacists not to undermine strike action by covering the work of those on strike, but to avoid refusing a reasonable instruction to undertake activity which is within their job description.

They should do any work necessary for patient care, but are encouraged to refuse work that would simply be the employer trying to reduce the impact of strike action, according to the PDA guidance.

In December, the PDA Union (PDAU) surveyed its 7,000 plus NHS members to see whether there was enough strength of feeling to pursue a formal strike ballot.

Some 79% of those who voted in England were in favour of industrial action short of strike and 84% were for strike action. Meanwhile, of those in Wales, some 88% voted for action short of strike and 70% were in favour of strike action.

However, at just 32%, turnout rates for the vote in England and Wales did not reach the 50% threshold required to pursue a strike ballot.

But in Northern Ireland, 80% of PDAU members participated in the vote, with 97% supporting action short of strike and 94% supporting strike action.

PDAU members in Northern Ireland were balloted by post on 28 February, in the first ever strike ballot called by the union.