The PSNC and NHS England & Improvement have agreed that the Pharmacy Quality Scheme deadline should be extended to the end of June to support pharmacies battling Covid and winter pressures.
In recognition of the challenges facing the pharmacy workforce, pharmacies will not need to submit evidence of work towards the PQS until June 30, though they will still need to make a PQS declaration during the February window.
In addition, contractors won’t have to complete the community pharmacy patient questionnaire for 2021-22, while the requirement for pharmacy teams to complete a national audit will be waived as will the requirement for teams to complete a clinical audit chosen by a contractor.
Separately, the PSNC said that while it had sought flexibility from NHSE&I regarding holiday openings this year, the NHS was “keen to ensure that pharmacies remain open for their contracted hours” given the pressure on primary care at present.
NHSE&I has said that in areas where contractors facing workforce difficulties are seeking to close on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – which this year are normal contractual days – it is prepared to agree an opening plan for those days that ensures patient access to services while recognising the pressures contractors are under.
This could see two pharmacies agree a plan for those two days, or an arrangement involving a wider number of pharmacies.
This is “intended for specific areas where there are known difficulties finding a pharmacist for the pharmacy, such as certain rural areas, not as a general invitation to all contractors”.
The negotiator said that while not all of its requests were granted, the concessions that were won represented the “lion’s share”.
PSNC services director Alastair Buxton said: “Community pharmacies are under enormous pressure at the moment, and the ramping up of the COVID-19 booster campaign this week has only exacerbated this. We are therefore pleased to have agreed these measures which should help to reduce some of the workload for contractors in the coming weeks.
“We know that for many community pharmacies they will not go far enough, and we are continuing to highlight to the NHS and Government the huge amount of critical work going on in pharmacies – this is having a very positive impact on patients, the public and the NHS, but it is taking its toll on already exhausted pharmacy teams.”
NPA chair Andrew Lane said: “We welcome the changes PSNC has negotiated, but it’s very modest compared to the tremendous scale of the workload challenge posed by the Omicron wave.
“NHS England should urgently consider a nationwide emergency supply scheme to reduce the time pharmacies spend chasing up prescriptions. This is already working in Cornwall as a local service and can be switched on elsewhere with minimal fuss.
“The requirement for pharmacies to check codes when people ask for lateral flow tests should also be suspended in light of the prevailing circumstances.
“All community pharmacies face a very challenging few months ahead, despite today’s announcement.”