England’s largest councils today raise concerns that local pharmacies do not have the capacity to deliver vital medicines to hundreds of ‘at risk’ people in rural areas – and they have offered their help in distributing.
Councils in county areas that border cities where Coronavirus is prominent, such as London and Newcastle, are warning that they are hearing that their local pharmacies are having difficulty delivering some medicines to those who are being ‘shielded’, due to capacity, staffing, and distance issues.
The County Councils Network (CCN), which represents 36 of England’s biggest councils that cover 26 million people, fears that as the country heads towards the peak of the virus this coming weekend this issue will be exacerbated across other parts of the country. This could leave older and sick residents potentially without medical supplies for an extended period of time.
The challenges facing community pharmacies in county areas are far more acute. Figures compiled by the network show that county areas, many of which have large rural and remote parts, have just one pharmacy per 766 people aged over 70, the most at-risk group and those most likely to require medicine. This compares to 366 people for every one pharmacy in London.
The CCN says that councils are ready to step in and support the efforts to ensure that no vulnerable ‘at risk’ person goes without these vital supplies. The network has written to the government urging them to enable council volunteers to help with the effort.
Pharmacies have so far been ‘understandably’ reluctant to use council volunteers over privacy fears, but in many areas thousands of volunteers have come forward – many of whom have been DBS checked – and councils are ready to deploy them to help the effort if guidance is produced allowing those who pass checks to do so.
County leaders say that many community pharmacies are being affected by staff shortages due to the virus and panic-buying of medicines, but these issues will be felt most in county areas, with less pharmacies to serve residents.
The letter to the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock welcomes the £300m additional £300m allocated to community pharmacies, announced last week. However, the CCN argues that it would not immediately solve some of the deeper practical and regulatory issues in terms of ensuring every person under enforced self-isolation gets their medicine.
The letter goes on to urge government to act immediately and clarify that pharmacists can safely use screened volunteers, trained by the local authority, NHS, or recognised charity to deliver medication and take telephone messages.
Cllr Julian German, rural spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:
“Since councils sent out a call for residents to come forward as volunteers, we have been humbled with the response from our local communities, with hundreds and thousands registering in each area. It means the country has a huge volunteer army to call on, ready to help with the national effort.
“This is a public health emergency and councils are keen to support our local community pharmacies increase their capacity, especially in rural and remote areas where there are fewer pharmacies per head for our residents. However, at present pharmacies are unable to take up this offer as they have concerns over privacy and who would be liable if something went wrong. This is why we are calling on the government to clarify that volunteers, where extensively screened, can be used.
“Many county leaders are reporting real concerns that elderly and sick people may go without medicines, particularly those in rural and remote areas. This is not the pharmacies’ fault, who are doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances, but it is clear they may not have the capacity alone to deliver to all residents who need their support. In times of national crisis, everyone works better together. We stand ready to help.”
Notes to editor