Community pharmacies who are required to close due to COVID-19 related reasons will be eligible for payments from local CCGs, according to updated guidance from NHS England - the first that directly acknowledges the huge impact the coronavirus outbreak is having on the sector.
In a letter cascaded to NHS Trusts, CCGs, GP practices and primary care networks on March 17, NHS England & NHS Improvement chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard outlined three areas where community pharmacies could be reimbursed by CCGs, who will then be reimbursed for the extra expenditure by the centre.
As well as payments for enforced closures, community pharmacists will also be reimbursed for medicines delivery services set up to support COVID-19 positive and vulnerable patients self-isolating at home, and for NHS Urgent Medicines Supply Services for patients whose general practice is closed.
The letter also says that the NHS will go further to remove routine burdens on GP practices and community pharmacists, by temporarily suspending "certain requirements". The letter goes on: "Income will be protected if other routine contracted work has to be substituted. We will issue guidance on this, which will also cover other parts of the NHS." This suggests that additional items in this year's contractual framework, including in the Pharmacy Quality Scheme, will be abandoned for the time being. One national audit has already been postponed.
The 17 page letter details the next steps for the NHS in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, designed to free up the maximum possible inpatient and critical care capacity. The measures include postponing all non-urgent elective surgery for three months, discharging all inpatients who are medically fit to leave, block buying capacity in independent hospitals and freeing up community hospital and intermediate care beds.
The Welsh Government has also recognised the increasing burden on community pharmacies.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society welcomed the "financial lifeline" from NHSE and said it looked forward to seeing more detail.
RPS England board chair Claire Anderson said the Government also needed to ensure pharmacies receive sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), and that it should prioritise the testing of all frontline health workers including pharmacy teams.
PSNC says it will be issuing a contractor update later today.