Pharmacies are being encouraged to get involved with local voluntary and community organisations to connect with people who would otherwise not have access to healthcare.

NHS England’s updated Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) said community pharmacy staff can play an ‘important role’ in making sure the ‘most excluded’ groups have access to primary care services, by working with community organisations and primary care networks (PCNs) to ‘shape interventions around community needs, using co-design and co-production’.

This push to ensure more people have easy access to healthcare comes after research found that Covid-19 disproportionately impacts certain populations, mainly those who are already subject to health inequalities and struggle to obtain healthcare.

The SOP pointed to two recent Public Health England (PHE) reports on the impact of Covid-19, which found the virus significantly affected older people, men, people living in deprived areas, black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, those who are obese and people with long-term health conditions.

The long-term economic impact of the pandemic is likely to ‘further exacerbate health inequalities’, the NHS England guidance said.

It also highlighted the impact of the pandemic on homelessness and pointed pharmacists in the direction of practical resources that could be used to support patients.

‘During the pandemic, some of your usual patients may have been displaced out of area and/or a group of homeless people relocated into your area due to measures applied by local authorities,’ the SOP said.

Greater involvement in PCNs

In July, NHS England published a letter highlighting the need for collaborative working between primary care, local communities, and partners to reduce health inequalities.

A recent NICE draft consultation on pharmacies’ role in health and wellbeing also said that community pharmacies - as the most frequented healthcare setting in England - have a large role to play in the health and wellbeing of the population.

In February, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said that community pharmacies need to be more involved in their local PCNs if they are to help tackle health inequalities.

Working behind closed doors

The updated SOP also said that pharmacies can work behind closed doors for up to 2.5 hours per day in times of ‘extreme pressure’, in light of the second wave of Covid-19 and increased workload faced by pharmacy teams.

‘However, on days where they are expected to be open, all pharmacies will be expected to have their doors open to the public between 10am and 12 noon and 2pm and 4pm as a minimum.

‘The ‘working behind closed doors hours’ must therefore be before 10 am, between midday and 2pm or after 4pm,’ the document said.

It added that this consistency in when pharmacy doors may be closed will help to give the public ‘a consistent message’ about accessing pharmacies.