Changing pharmacy opening hours in response to workforce pressures during the ongoing pandemic
Self-isolation requirements and a lack of available pharmacists (amongst other things) mean that short-notice closures/late opening/early closing incidents are continuing to happen, unavoidably, within the community pharmacy sector.
There is a clear duty on pharmacy contractors to ensure they provide services in line with their contractual arrangements; however, the current pressures may leave contractors making difficult decisions in terms of service provision.
Contractors unable to find a pharmacist to staff a pharmacy may still seek to use emergency provisions introduced at the start of the pandemic to reduce temporarily the number of hours or days that they are open. NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) must agree any contractor application to use the emergency provisions, even if this is done retrospectively.
The declaration of an emergency enabling the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services was introduced to help maintain pharmacy services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been extended a number of times since, currently until 31st January 2022.
The declaration enables contractors to apply to NHSE&I to make temporary changes to their opening hours or temporary closures where:
- adequate reasons for these changes have been provided to NHSE&I;
- the application has been submitted to NHSE&I with at least 24 hours’ notice of the requested changes; and
- NHSE&I has agreed these changes or has not objected to them.
NHSE&I does not need to approve the application in advance. After contractors have given 24 hours’ notice, and in the absence of a response from NHSE&I, they may start the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services. However, contractors must return to normal provision of services (core and supplementary opening hours) if their request is subsequently refused by NHSE&I.
This ‘emergency provision’, enables the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services during an emergency – the threatened or actual serious damage to human welfare caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Secretary of State’s emergency declaration remains in force, and with NHSE&I’s agreement or acceptance, the ‘emergency provision’ can be used for short term relief in exceptional circumstances where a contractor is unable to engage a (locum) pharmacist and thus unable to open the pharmacy for its contractual hours, despite best endeavours to do so.
NHSE&I is more likely to accept a contractor’s application for temporary opening hours or a temporary closure if it is of short duration, where the application is in response to circumstances beyond the contractor’s control, and where the pharmacy includes details of the actions it has taken, and is continuing to take, as part of their business continuity plan.
For further information, please see our network resilience page