Maintaining access to pharmacy services – opening hours and temporary closures

Published on: 25th March 2020 | Updated on: 10th June 2022

This page is now archived and will not be updated

The Secretary of State emergency declaration allowing the flexible provision of pharmacy opening hours and closures under the NHS regulations (2013) ended on 31st March 2022.

This page contains advice on maintaining access to pharmacy services in relation to pharmacy opening hours and temporary closures.

Page last updated: 6th June 2022

Earlier in the COVID-19 outbreak, legislation was amended to allow the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to declare an emergency (the threatened or actual serious damage to human welfare caused by the COVID-19 pandemic), which would allow the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services, to help maintain pharmacy services during the pandemic.

The NHS Regulations provide that where the Secretary of State declares an emergency, relevant regulations are ‘activated’ and may be used by contractors, and the Pharmaceutical Services (Advanced and Enhanced Services and Emergency Declaration) Directions 2020 declared an emergency requiring the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services with effect from 27 March 2020. Direction 2 stated that NHS England must exercise its functions, or where it has discretion, to consider exercising its functions, under NHS regulations:

  • regulation 29(2) (contractors – relocation of premises)
  • regulation 61 (dispensing doctors)
  • paragraph 27 of Schedule 4, (contractors – temporary flexible provision of hours and or closures)
  • paragraph 17 of Schedule 5, and (appliance contractors)
  • paragraph 26(3) of Schedule 7 (LPS pharmacies)

The declaration of an emergency is currently in force until 31 March 2022. 

This means contractors can make temporary changes to opening hours or temporary closures where:

  1. Adequate reasons for these changes have been provided to NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I); and
  2. NHSE&I have been given 24 hours’ notice of these changes; and
  3. NHSE&I have agreed these changes or have not objected to them.

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.

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:

  1. It is of short duration;
  2. Where the application is in response to circumstances beyond the contractor’s control; and
  3. Where the pharmacy includes details of the actions it has taken, and is continuing to take, as part of their business continuity plan.

Read the PCC briefing on the flexible provision of pharmaceutical services

Dispensing Doctors

The emergency provisions of regulation 61, which are applicable to dispensing doctors, seek to ensure the adequate provision of pharmaceutical services in an area if any pharmacies nearby temporarily close. The regulation provides that during the emergency period:

  • where there is a temporary closure of a pharmacy in the area of the relevant HWB;
  • and in order to secure continuing adequate provision of pharmacy services and medicine supplies;
  • it is necessary for the dispensing doctor to provide ‘pharmaceutical services’ to normally ineligible patients (dispense prescriptions to those patients who usually have prescriptions dispensed at the pharmacy)
  • for a specified period of time (not longer than the emergency period)

NHSE&I may allow the dispensing doctor practice to dispense medicines temporarily to normally ineligible patients.

The provision is permissive only, and NHSE&I may not give such permission to a dispensing doctor even if a nearby pharmacy closes temporarily. For example, if the provision of pharmaceutical services by other pharmacies in the area provides adequate ‘pharmaceutical services’ in the area, there would be no reason for NHSE&I to give the dispensing doctor such permission.

Regulation 61 while ‘activated’ during the emergency period, does NOT give any authority for dispensing doctors to dispense medicines temporarily to ineligible patients:

  • unless a nearby pharmacy has closed temporarily (this does not include flexible opening hours/closed door working) AND
  • unless and until NHSE&I has agreed that the dispensing doctor may do so (a dispensing doctor does not have to agree to provide such temporary services).

Regulation 61 also allows NHSE&I to grant a dispensing doctor temporary premises approval in appropriate circumstances.

If pharmacy services remain open in a rural area – even with the flexible provision of opening hours/closed door working – there should be no reason for the use of Regulation 61 by a dispensing doctor: no reason for NHSE&I to grant such use.

PSNC would expect local LPCs to be involved by NHSE&I if it considers exercising its powers under regulation 61 of the NHS regulations.

Emergency closure checklist for community pharmacy

This briefing for pharmacy contractors explains the contractual, IT and other actions needed if a pharmacy may be faced with a risk of a short-term closure because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic or for another reason.

PSNC Briefing 019/20: Emergency closure checklist for community pharmacy

For any queries related to information on this page, please email

COVID-19 update -Holiday Openings: Boxing Day and New Year’s Day

Recognising the current challenges being experienced by pharmacies and the contribution of the pharmacy workforce to the COVID-19 vaccination programme, PSNC has reached agreement with NHS England and NHS Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care on a number of measures to help ease the immediate pressures on community pharmacies. 

Separately, PSNC has also been seeking flexibility from NHSE&I about holiday openings this year, but NHSE&I have been keen to ensure that pharmacies remain open for their contracted hours during the holiday period given the ongoing impact of the COVID booster campaign on primary care, and to maintain patient access.

Read the announcement

Return to the main COVID-19 hub page


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