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GPhC promises to look into ‘complex issue’ of pharmacy closures


GPhC promises to look into ‘complex issue’ of pharmacy closures

By Neil Trainis

The General Pharmaceutical Council chief executive Duncan Rudkin has said the issues raised by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association over the closures of branches belonging to some multiples are financial and labour market-driven rather than regulatory but promised to work with stakeholders to develop “a system-wide approach” to tackling the issue.

Rudkin (pictured) told Independent Community Pharmacist it was committed to addressing what he described as “a complex issue” following a public row between the PDA and Company Chemists’ Association over the reasons for the closures.

PDA chairman Mark Koziol recently wrote to the government, chief pharmaceutical officers, NHS chief executives, the GPhC and Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland to demand “urgent action” on what he claimed were "widespread" and "orchestrated" pharmacy closures across the UK by some large multiples.

He said the PDA had evidence that closures were being announced as much as four weeks in advance and that big chains had tried to reduce locums’ pre-agreed rates and cancelled shifts where no agreement was reached. He accused large multiples of misleading the public by telling them closures were down to a “national shortage of pharmacists.” The CCA has maintained its members are contending with “a workforce crisis.”

Rudkin, who earlier this month rejected the PDA’s claim that the GPhC has been guilty of “light touch regulation of pharmacy owners,” said Koziol’s letter shone “an important light on an issue we know is of concern to patients, carers and families” and insisted the regulator will work with all concerned to address it.

“Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and the pharmacies in which many of them serve and care for the public are highly valued within communities,” he said.

“Closures can be distressing for all involved, as well as potentially raising safety concerns, if people cannot access the pharmacy services many of us rely on.

“Whilst we recognise many aspects of the issue raised by the PDA are financial, labour market and contractual issues rather than regulatory ones, we are committed to working collaboratively with the PDA and all involved, including the other addressees of the PDA’s letter, to develop a system-wide approach to this complex issue, so that pharmacies across Great Britain are meeting the expectations and needs of patients and the public.”

PDA seen messages between locums and Tesco managers

The PDA told ICP it has seen messages between locums and Tesco managers about rates having accused the company of demanding that locums accept lower rates for shifts they have already agreed or have their bookings cancelled. The PDA said the messages were sent to it confidentiality “because they can identify individuals” and claimed a Facebook post that appeared to come from Tesco said one of its branches would close because of “a national shortage of pharmacists.” Tesco did not respond to the allegations. 

The PDA said the recipients of Koziol’s letter are welcome to talk to it about the evidence it has but insisted it would not share any material passed to it by its members without their permission.

“We can’t see a reason to seek that (permission) right now because nobody is disputing what we have revealed. Providing heavily redacted screenshots to protect identities isn’t going to add to the situation,” the PDA said.

When asked how many locums had complained to it in the last six months, the PDA said: “We don’t keep a tally but it’s possible that as many non-locum members have raised concerns with us about this as locums. So from our perspective it isn’t about rates. Pharmacists in all sorts of areas of practice, GP surgeries, opioid replacement teams and at the multiples themselves, are worried about patients.

“So, while rates are a factor, this really isn’t predominantly a rate dispute but a patient safety story.”

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