The Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Cathy Harrison, has written to all pharmacy contractors in Northern Ireland to update them on the current, fluid situation and to inform them that £10m is to be advanced to contractors by the end of this month, with a further £25m to be made as soon as possible at the start of the new financial year.

Mrs Harrison thanked everyone for the continued efforts of all staff working in extremely challenging circumstances within community pharmacies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during what she called a ‘rapidly changing situation’.

In addition to the extra funding, Mrs Harrison also revealed that:

  • Core services are the main focus and all other services, such as minor ailments etc, are to be suspended with immediate effect.
  • She has engaged with the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners in light of recent actions that have had, she said, ‘negative, unintended consequences on the workload in community pharmacies’.
  • In response to current workforce pressures, she has written to all pharmacy registrants to encourage individuals to consider coming forward to work as locums in community pharmacies.

Mrs Harrison also touched on the subject of the high volumes of prescriptions that are being issued.

‘I remain concerned,’ she said, ‘at ongoing reports of practices issuing high volumes of prescriptions, some with durations exceeding the normal maximum of a 56 day supply. As a result, I have asked the HSCB to work with medical colleagues to ensure that the response of general practice to COVID-19 does not have a negative impact on community pharmacy teams already under pressure, as well as the wider medicines supply chain.’

‘COVID-19 represents a new and increasing challenge for all of us,’ she concluded, ‘and it is difficult to predict with certainty how this situation will develop over the coming weeks and months. It is possible, for example, that contractors may find themselves unable to open a pharmacy due to unavailability of staff. The HSCB is currently exploring arrangements for clustering of pharmacies in geographical areas to ensure continuity of service.’

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