The coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting nearly 200 countries and territories around the world. It is not something anyone should take lightly and now that better measures are in place, perhaps we will see a downward curve before long. This can only happen if we all work together and follow the guidelines as laid out by the various government bodies.
As healthcare professionals with pivotal roles in business continuity, resiliency and security, the work of community pharmacies during these unprecedented and challenging times are critical.
Continuity Plans For COVID-19
All community pharmacies should ensure that their business continuity plans are up to date in light of COVID-19 and team members should have a copy that they can keep at home. This will enable people to call upon community pharmacies in the coming weeks as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. It is highly likely that you may lose team members due to self-isolation or looking after family members in isolation.
All businesses and NHS providers, including community pharmacy contractors, must know how to handle emergencies. This will ensure that, wherever possible, they can continue to provide critical services to patients and the general public.
The GPhC Standard 1.1
According to standard 1.1 of the GPhC, “the risks associated with providing pharmacy services are identified and managed”. The expectation here is that every pharmacy has a business continuity plan that all team members are aware of. It may also be advisable for team members to have a copy at home so they can refer to at any time.
Things to consider include having the contact details for all your team members, locum pharmacist and locum agencies. This list should also have the details of suppliers, NHS England teams, LPC, CCG, DOS team, Shared care contacts, Care homes, other local pharmacies and the GPhC inspector.
Looking After Shared Care Patients
Teams must consider their shared care patients especially if they are on daily supervised pick-up. Think about what arrangements you could make and who you need to contact. Areas that need special attention include:
- managing self-isolating patients
- managing potential pharmacy closures
- handling a disruption in the supply chain
If you need to close your pharmacy for whatever reason, contact your local service provider and prescribers. Look for nearby pharmacies who can provide the necessary support to ensure clients continue to receive their prescriptions and healthcare advice. Make sure that all key members of your team are aware of their location.
Patients in self-isolation would, of course, need to collect medicines with the help of someone else. They need to give a person authorisation to collect medication on their behalf. You can find more guidance in this document along with a template letter.
Patients On Multi-Compartment Compliance Aids (MCA)
Part of the business continuity planning involves assessing all patients to determine their level of risk by removing the service (low/medium/high). A further Equality Act assessment could be required to identify additional support they may need concerning their long-term disability.
For low-risk patients, it is advisable to remove this service as soon as possible. Do this by moving to supply in original packs which will free up capacity to enable pharmacy teams to start assessing patients in the medium-risk group.
As a result, every pharmacy must start the review thinking about how they will cope if they lose half their team. This is not about removing the service from all patients but rather to protect the most vulnerable in society who need it. Here is a downloadable Ms Word template letter pharmacies can share with their patients.
PSNC COVID-19 Updates
The PSNC issue regular updates from NHSE&I and links to COVID-19 information on Government websites and links to posters pharmacies should display among other important information. The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it so much uncertainty that exceptional measures may be required to ensure patient and public safety as well as that of pharmacy teams.
There are various sources of vital information in the face of COVID-19 and that includes guidance on support for pharmacy staff on staying well at work. There is also guidance in the context of opening hours during the increasingly difficult and stressful times.
Pharmacy teams are under increasing pressure and making use of the temporary changes in opening hours will allow pharmacy teams to not only catch up but also to look after their mental well-being. Remember this is a marathon not a sprint.
Flexibility In Operating Hours
The standard operating procedures for community pharmacy was updated on 22nd March 2020. It allows some flexibility for pharmacies in terms of opening hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few guidelines:
- Community pharmacies are expected to be open to the public between 10 am-12 noon and 2 pm-4 pm as a minimum
- If under significant pressure, pharmacies may close their doors to the public for up to 2.5 hours a day, including lunch (at the discretion of the responsible pharmacist)
- Similarly, 100 hours pharmacies should be open from 10 am-12 pm and 2 pm-6 pm as a minimum
- A sign must be on the door to provide people with information about how to contact the pharmacy for urgent assistance
Guidance From The Government And NHS
HM Government, the NHS and other representative organisations work tirelessly to provide healthcare workers with as much guidance as possible on the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation changes every day and it’s important to stay informed on all the latest updates.
On the government website, you will find more information on COVID-19. It contains guidance on the assessment and management of suspected UK cases. This includes infection, prevention and control, sampling and diagnostics, news and announcements. Here are some helpful links:
- Guidance for healthcare providers who have diagnosed a case within their facility
- Guidance for primary care
- Rapid COVID-19 tests for use in community pharmacies or at home
- Evaluation of commercially available diagnostic products
If you haven’t already, sign up to the PSNC Newsletter to get regular and all the latest updates. You can also find more information on the government’s COVID-19 Action Plan which was issued on 12th March 2020.
Pharmacy Delivery Service
As part of the country’s response to COVID-19, HM Government will commission a Delivery Service from the community pharmacy sector. This is in aid of supporting around 1.4 million vulnerable patients in self-isolation.
The PSNC urgently needs to find an agreement on fees for contractors to deliver the service. These funds will come from new monies to the sector as well as the service specification for the new national delivery service. They hope to make an announcement soon.
Advice for patients who do not currently have their prescriptions collected or delivered includes:
- Asking someone who can pick up their prescription from the local pharmacy
- Contacting their pharmacy to ask them to help find a volunteer to deliver it to them
They may also have to arrange for collection or delivery of hospital specialist medication prescribed to them by their hospital care team.
Important COVID-19 Public Information
Healthcare providers play a vital role in communicating key messages to the public about the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several resources available including posters, pull up banners, digital out of home advertising, website banners, social media imagery and animations among others.
Please note that messages may change over time due to new updates on the virus. For that reason, it’s best to use NHS resources rather than producing your own or buying commercial ones. You can find some of them here along with several media containing advice for patients in self-isolation.
Hand Washing Tips
As the coronavirus continues to spread, hygiene has become crucial in fighting the spread. Hand washing remains one of the most important and should be done more often than usual. Always wash hands using soap and water or hand sanitiser for 20 seconds every time. This is especially the case when you:
- Get home or into work
- Blow your nose, sneeze or cough
- Eat or handle food
Remember to implement social distancing whenever you are around other people. This, along with staying at home as much as possible will save lives. For additional information about COVID-19, or if someone thinks they might be infected, visit nhs.uk/coronavirus.
LPC Support And VirtualOutcomes
Additional support is there for LPCs to help coordinate local efforts to the COVID-19 response. Richard Brown, CEO of Avon LPC, has joined the PSNC team on a part-time basis and launched a COVID-19 Rapid Action Team.
It comprises of an LPC Chief Officer to represent every region of England who will meet twice a week. They aim to collect queries, feedback or questions from the field and ideas on how community pharmacy teams are dealing with the pandemic.
VirtualOutcomes is also here to support you and your team during these challenging times. We will soon have an online training module on Business Resilience with podcasts.
If you need to access any of our other online training courses on diabetes, sepsis, strokes, asthma attacks and our coveted Health Champion Training, please visit our website. You can also follow us on social media and read our blogs for all the latest updates.