The Assembly Health Committee has today heard how the community pharmacy network in Northern Ireland is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Community pharmacies across NI have already seen a huge rise in attendances by several thousand people per day and are now implementing a range of special measures to ensure the network is sustainable in the coming months.

Special measures being implemented include new ‘post-office style’ counters and exclusion zones in many pharmacies, restricted access, new closing times over lunch to restock shelves, and up to 48 hours to wait for dispensing to be completed.

CPNI is also calling on the Department to enable pharmacists to take on repeat prescribing roles so that they can manage the supply of medicines and free up GP phone lines and surgery time as Covid-19 escalates.

Speaking after the Health Committee hearing, Chief Executive Gerard Greene said, ‘There is a lot of uncertainty in our profession now about how pharmacy will get through the coming weeks and months with Covid-19 and the unprecedented demand it has placed upon us. A new range of special measures have been identified and we pharmacies are putting those in place as we speak. In addition, we are asking for a greater role in repeat prescribing so that we can reduce the bottlenecks in GP surgeries and better manage the supply of medicines on a monthly basis.

‘Community pharmacists also urgently need access to Covid-19 testing kits to test their staff teams. Those testing kits are essential because if we know community pharmacy teams do not have Covid-19 then they won’t have to self-isolate for 14 days meaning they can get back to the pharmacy to look after their patients.

‘We are firefighting at the minute. We are doing what we can in the circumstances, and I want to pay tribute to pharmacy teams who are working around the clock now to keep things going. Many are working into the early hours of the morning to meet prescription and administrative demands and restock shelves long after customers have gone home.’

Local Pharmacist, Peter Rice, added, ‘There are currently huge pressures on pharmacists and their teams to meet an unprecedented surge in demand for community pharmacy services. We are working all hours to keep the service going.

‘In addition to increased demands on our time, we also face rising costs that we are having to meet right now. These costs include having to buy a lot more medicines in, rising staff costs as they work longer hours, and also putting in place physical changes in our pharmacies such as post-office style counters to protect staff and customers from Covid-19.

‘Our priority is the health and wellbeing of people in the community and playing our part in getting medicines to people who need them most. To do that, we must keep our own staff teams safe and maintain our availability to the wider health service. It is now critical that the community pharmacy network is supported financially to meet these costs and keep the service going during this huge effort to delay the spread of this disease.’