COVID-19 LATEST: Boots to temporarily close 60 pharmacies
All the most important developments in the COVID-19 pandemic for pharmacists and their teams, as they happen.
Thursday 9 April
- Boots is to temporarily close 60 pharmacies in quieter areas by 15 April 2020, so that staff can be either redeployed to busier pharmacies or stay at home. In a statement published on 8 April 2020, Boots said the closing stores were typically in city centre or shopping centre locations and are usually within a few minutes’ walk to the next closest Boots pharmacy. A spokesperson for Boots said that “we are committed to being there for the people that need us and we will not leave a community without a pharmacy”.
- A spokesperson for Lloyds Pharmacy told The Pharmaceutical Journal that at the moment, it had no plans to follow suit. “Most of our pharmacies are on local high streets with communities that depend on us, so wherever possible we will try and stay open. We will keep the situation under review”.
- Children’s rainbows are brightening up branches of Charles Michies pharmacy in Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland. The pharmacy put out an appeal on Facebook, asking local children to send their pictures to them to include in their public health information on TV screens.
- Sue Gordon, group manager at Charles Michies, said “We wanted to add something positive to the messages on the screens, as well as sharing a symbol of community spirit.” Gordon added: “We’ve had such a great response to it, with all sorts of drawings and photos being sent in from customers. I’d like to thank everyone for sharing them with us.”
Source: Charles Michies Pharmacy
- Guidance for pharmacy professionals on making ethical and professional decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic has been published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). Amongst other areas, it covers working outside of usual areas of specialism or competence; direct and indirect discrimination in decision making, and managing sparse resources.
- In a statement accompanying the launch of the guidance, the RPS said that pharmacy teams “should be reassured that should decisions be called into question at a later date, they will be judged according to the circumstances at the time of the decision, not with the benefit of hindsight”.
- Community pharmacies opening on Good Friday and Easter Monday will be funded at a rate of £250 per hour, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said. Pharmacies in England were told they must open between 2pm and 5pm on the bank holidays, but that they would not be funded at a premium holiday rate. The PSNC had argued that payments should reflect the holiday opening hours and its chief executive, Simon Dukes, said: “The negotiations over Easter opening hours have concluded much later than we had hoped and we know that this has caused considerable logistical challenges for contractors. We are pleased to have reached agreement on a funding rate though and we look forward to resolving similar questions around the May bank holidays much earlier.” Deputy director of pharmacy commissioning at NHS England, Jill Loader, said the payment “does reflect some acknowledgement that it is a bank holiday”.
- Government proposals to allow pharmacists to supply some controlled drugs without a prescription during the pandemic have been backed by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). The proposed legislation would only apply if the patient had been receiving the controlled drugs as part of ongoing treatment. In a letter published on 7 April 2020, the ACMD said it was “generally supportive” of the proposal, but noted that pharmacists would “require additional support and guidance, as they will be working outside of the scope of their usual practice in exceptional circumstances”. A spokesperson for the Home Office told The Pharmaceutical Journal that “we are grateful to the ACMD for addressing these proposals urgently, and we will consider their response carefully”.
- Sandra Gidley, president of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said the Society supported the proposal to allow supply of some controlled drugs without a prescription, saying it would be used in “exceptional circumstances”. Gidley added that the RPS “will provide guidance to the profession to provide clarity and maintain high standards of supply, once the necessary legislation is passed”.
Wednesday 8 April
- The government has called on over 100 UK-based pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies to rapidly develop a reliable COVID-19 antibody test to help it achieve its goal of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. This comes as the government admitted in a statement that the antibody tests it has validated so far, have not provided accurate results. A group of businesses including Abingdon Health, BBI Solutions, CIGA Healthcare and Oxford University have therefore collaborated to design and develop a new antibody test, the government said.
- Meanwhile, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are working with Cambridge University to set up a new testing laboratory, with the aim of processing 30,000 tests a day by the start of May to identify whether people currently have the virus. The government has previously promised that pharmacists would be among those prioritised for these tests. John Newton, the government’s adviser on testing, said: “We have already launched from scratch an entire new network of testing labs across the UK and, with the support of industry, we can go even further, both in support of our existing work and in developing new tests.”
- Pharmacists in Wales with symptoms of COVID-19 are now able to access testing through their Local Health Board (LHB). A network of COVID-19 testing sites have been set up across Wales, with pharmacists who require a test identified by their employer before being given a time by the LHB to attend for the test. Elen Jones, policy and practice lead for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Wales, said that early feedback from RPS members had suggested that testing was being provided within 24 hours, with many accessing a test within just a few hours, subject to capacity, and results being provided in 1-3 days. However, Jones added that the RPS is “still concerned that testing for the wider pharmacy team is variable throughout Wales, as is testing for household contacts, meaning some pharmacy team members continue to isolate because a member of their household ‘might’ have it”.
- Pharmacies have been warned that prisoners released temporarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic may not have the drugs or prescriptions they would usually have to ensure they continue to receive the medication they were prescribed in prison. The Ministry of Justice announced on 4 April 2020 that some prisoners who are within two months of the end of their sentences will be temporarily released and in a letter to community pharmacies, sent on the same day, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, Keith Ridge, encouraged pharmacies to use current regulatory and “usual community pharmacy and COVID-19 mechanisms and services” to supply urgent medicines to released patients to avoid harm.
- The pharmacy regulator and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) have jointly produced a letter for pharmacy staff “in support of the legitimate movement of pharmacy employees between their home and place of work”. The letter, addressed to “law enforcement teams”, and co-signed by General Pharmaceutical Society chief executive, Duncan Rudkin, and RPS chief executive Paul Bennett says: “Pharmacy staff are working extremely hard on the frontline to maintain the supply of medicines and healthcare advice to the public. It is essential that they are able to travel freely between their place of residence and place of work for this to continue.” The letter should be stamped by the pharmacist’s employer.
Source: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire / PA Images
Tuesday 7 April
- Community pharmacy in Scotland is to receive an initial £5.3 million in funding to support them during the pandemic, Jeane Freeman, cabinet secretary for health and sport, has announced. At a government press conference held on 7 April 2020, Freeman said the funding had been agreed with Community Pharmacy Scotland to help address pharmacies “unparalleled levels of activity” and would cover equipment costs, adaptations to premises, additional staffing and locum fees. The money is in addition to the three-month advance payment to be paid at the end of April. Freeman also said she was pleased that the sector had “responded so positively to my request of them that they remain open on Good Friday and Easter Monday where it is possible for them to do so”. She said the Scottish government would “meet in full additional costs incurred by community pharmacies to support the NHS at this time”.
- Talks with NHS England and Improvement over community pharmacy’s use of the new volunteer-led medicines delivery service have “taken far longer” than anticipated, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said. The ongoing negotiations centre around how pharmacies will be expected to make use of the 750,000 volunteers who have offered to provide services, including delivering medicines, to vulnerable patients. Simon Dukes, chief executive of the PSNC, had raised patient safety concerns about the scheme, and in a further statement he said that the negotiations are “an incredibly frustrating process that has taken far longer than we wanted it to – the lack of clarity is extremely unhelpful for contractors who we know are facing increasing demands for deliveries from patients”. The PSNC added that it has asked that pharmacies only be required to use DBS-checked volunteers to deliver medicines.
- Some European countries are experiencing shortages of medicines used to treat patients with COVID-19 and other EU member states have said they expect shortages “very soon”, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said. In a statement, published on 6 April 2020, the EMA said the shortages include medicines used in intensive care units including anaesthetics, antibiotics and muscle relaxants, as well as drugs that are being used off-label for COVID-19. EU authorities have now agreed measures to support the availability of medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic, including an industry single point of contact system under which pharmaceutical companies will report anticipated or current medicines shortages directly to the EMA.
- Legislation has been introduced in Wales to require businesses, including pharmacies, to take “reasonable measures” to keep a distance of 2 metres between people in the premises or waiting to come in. But a spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) said the legal requirement to maintain a two metre distance between staff members would be particularly challenging in some community pharmacies.
- “Pharmacies obviously don’t want to put staff in danger, but they also need to keep functioning during this time. We are working with Welsh Government to better understand what ‘reasonable’ adjustments to working practices to accommodate the 2 metre rule actually mean,” they said. CPW is also advising community pharmacists to check with their insurers regarding the implications of legal compliance issues created by the regulations.
- All pharmacy schools should ensure that students’ performance in assessments taken during the COVID-19 pandemic does not negatively affect their degree classification, the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) has said. In a statement, Regan McCahill, president of the BPSA, said that some pharmacy schools had announced that assessments completed during the current disruption could only be used to improve overall degree classification. If the results would lower a degree classification, then the assessment would be marked as a ‘pass’ — meaning the overall degree grade was unaffected. But other universities, McCahill said, had said their assessment policy did not cover students on courses regulated by outside bodies, such as the MPharm. “It is our understanding that applying such a policy is not a regulatory issue”, McCahill said, adding that the BPSA urged all schools to “relieve their students’ stress and anxieties” by putting this “safety net” in place.
- Medicines, Ethics and Practice (MEP), alongside 21 Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) guides to various aspects of practice, have been made freely available as part of the Society’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously the material was only accessible to RPS members, but they have been made available to support pharmacists returning to patient-facing roles. The guides include Emergency Supply, Controlled Drugs, and Preparing for Day One in both community and hospital pharmacy.
- In a statement, the RPS said that the decision had been “inspired by the way pharmacists are supporting each other during this global emergency”, and that it had “heard your call to do everything we can to make sure every pharmacist who needs it has access to up to date guidance”.
- Patients who are considered ‘vulnerable’ to contracting COVID-19, and should be shielding, will now be flagged on the Summary Care Record (SCR). This means community pharmacists will receive an alert when accessing the record of an at-risk patient using the SCR application. In a statement on its website, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said the flag “will support pharmacy teams’ decision making about how to best support those people in the shielded group”. The PSNC added that the flag, which went live on 3 April 2020, is currently being piloted with community pharmacy before being rolled out to other parts of the health and care system. The Government has asked 1.5m patients across six categories to shield for at least 12 weeks.
Monday 6 April
- Fourteen fake or unlicensed medical products advertised to treat or prevent COVID-19 are under investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). In a statement on its website, the MHRA said on 4 April 2020 that it was investigating fake self-testing kits, “miracle cures”, “antiviral misting sprays” and other products.
- “There is no medicine licensed specifically to treat or prevent COVID-19, therefore any claiming to do so are not authorised and have not undergone regulatory approvals required for sale on the UK market,” warned Lynda Scammell, MHRA enforcement official. “We cannot guarantee the safety or quality of the product and this poses a risk to your health.” The MHRA statement added that the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has also received reports from people who have lost money when trying to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) or self-testing kits from fraudulent websites that do not exist.
- Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians requiring a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check can now get approval within 24 hours under a temporary fast-track service launched on 30 March 2020. The DBS service will fast-track checks of the adults and children barred lists free-of-charge for healthcare workers recruited to help with the coronavirus pandemic. According to guidance published by the DBS a fast-track check will be provided for an application made “by a person who is registered, or who the Registrar is considering registering, as a pharmacist or a pharmacy technician”. The General Pharmaceutical Council announced on 27 March 2020 that 6,200 former pharmacy professionals have been registered to help with the pandemic, giving them the option of working of returning to work. The DBS guidance added that the Department of Health and Social Care has advised that if there is no match against the barred lists, the applicant can be recruited into a job before receiving the full DBS certificate.
- A “Care For Your Pharmacy” campaign has been launched by Community Pharmacy Lancashire (CPL), in response to increased reports of aggression towards pharmacy teams. The campaign, scheduled to run over three months, will be promoted through local media coverage and social media. As well as sending out a request for “patience and respect”, the campaign will share information about the protective measures that pharmacies have put in place during the pandemic, and about medicines supplies.
- Kath Gulson, chief executive of CPL, described the campaign as a “a public health message for our local people”. The theme of the campaign is, she said, to “care for our teams, care for your health, and care for one another. Sadly, some people have been a little impatient, so we’re just trying to get that message out: Care for your pharmacy, so that your pharmacy can care for you”.
Source: Nic Bunce / Shutterstock.com
- Community pharmacies in England will be required to open from 14:00 to 17:00 on Good Friday and Easter Monday, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) has confirmed. But pharmacies can request an exemption to this requirement, particularly if there is likely to be minimal demand due to social distancing — for example, pharmacies based within shopping centres.
- NHSE&I said that contractors would be able to claim additional payment for these hours, but that the rates would be based on normal working days rather than bank holidays. Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said the negotiator was arguing for full bank holiday funding. “Any decision to treat the Bank Holidays as normal days fails to recognise the legal responsibilities that employers have to pay enhanced rates for work on these days, and we are trying to change their minds on this,” he said.
- A joint letter from the UK’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s medical director has been sent to NHS trusts asking them to make “every effort” to enrol patients into national prioritised clinical trials on COVID-19.Almost 1,000 patients from 132 different hospitals have so far been recruited in 15 days to join the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial, being coordinated by researchers at Oxford University, and thousands more are expected to join, making it the largest randomised controlled trial of potential COVID-19 treatments in the world. The trial is testing several medicines including, lopinavir-ritonavir, an HIV treatment; dexamethasone, a steroid used in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation; and hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria.
- The UK government is also funding two other major trials: the Platform Randomised Trial of INterventions against COVID-19 In older peoPLE (PRINCIPLE) which is looking at interventions against COVID-19 in older people in primary care, and the Randomised, Embedded, Multi-factorial, Adaptive Platform Trial for Community-Acquired Pneumonia (REMAP-CAP) which is an international effort focusing on critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207843