Patients are today (30 March) being asked to treat high street pharmacy staff with respect, as they deliver vital support on the NHS frontline in the face of COVID-19.
As some people scramble to stockpile medicines and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is putting unprecedented pressure on pharmacy teams and the supply chain more generally, representatives of the 11,600 pharmacies in England have warned.
Many pharmacies are struggling to manage staff shortages (for instance where people are self-isolating) and remaining staff are working long hours to meet demand.
The warning comes from the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIM), the Company Chemists Association (CCA), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
They say they are receiving daily accounts from pharmacy staff who are being subjected to verbal, and sometimes physical abuse, from customers looking to stockpile medicines and other products.
As they come under increased pressure, pharmacies are having to take a number of steps to ensure that they can continue to supply the medicines and products that people need, including:
- Operating on a closed-door basis at some points during the day. This allows pharmacy teams to dispense medicines safely and to meet unprecedented demand for prescription medicines.
- Restricting the supply of some products including paracetamol, hand sanitisers and formula milk. NHS England and NHS Improvement has asked pharmacies to do this to ensure that everyone can have supplies.
- Asking customers and patients to keep 2m (6 feet) away from other people when inside the pharmacy.
But these measures are leading to frustration among some members of the public, a minority of whom then intimidate pharmacy staff.
The pharmacy representatives have asked members of the public to:
- Avoid pharmacies if you are showing symptoms of COVID-19: If you have a dry, persistent cough, fever or shortness of breath, please don’t go to your local pharmacy.
- Be patient: All pharmacies are under immense pressure and working around the clock to ensure that you get what you need.
- Respect pharmacy staff: they are providing NHS services and deserve the same respect as any other frontline NHS worker.
- Order medicines and purchase products as normal: there is no need to stockpile. There are enough medicines for everyone, so long as everyone only orders the prescriptions and buys the medicines they really need. We are all in this together and we need to remember that stockpiling causes problems for more vulnerable people in our communities.
Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the CCA, said:
“We are saddened to hear reports of pharmacy staff being treated unfairly by those they are trying to help. Our pharmacy teams are working under great pressure amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and we are thankful for their perseverance. We urge everyone to remember that our pharmacy teams are on the front line of the NHS effort at this time, providing vital healthcare services.”