The pharmacist Defence Association (PDA) has said this week that ‘large numbers’ of PDA members are reporting they are being asked to break the law by their employers under the pre-text of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These situations have included being offered a locum placement, but only on the condition that the pharmacist is prepared to sign on remotely to allow the pharmacy to operate in their absence.
Other examples involve where unqualified staff would be assembling and supplying prescription medicines in the absence of a pharmacist or where an employer is asking the responsible pharmacist to sign on simultaneously for more than one pharmacy.
The PDA has said that they are extremely concerned that some employers are inciting pharmacists to break the law through internal guidance and using the pandemic as an excuse. They have concerns that in their view it is apparent that some pharmacy multiples wish to operate pharmacies without a pharmacist even though a locum would be available, but the pharmacy is unprepared to use them.
In an article on their website the PDA brought members’ attention to the recent GPhC and PSNI joint statement two weeks ago, the pharmacy regulators recognised that in the highly challenging circumstances of the pandemic, pharmacists may need to depart from established procedures in order to care for patients and their families.
The PDA supported this move by the regulators as it enables pharmacists to put patients’ needs ahead of the rules and the regulations at a time of crisis. They said it is important to note that the GPhC has subsequently confirmed that this measure is only capable of being activated by the Responsible Pharmacist (RP) as it is they who are on the front line and must make this individual professional decision based upon local circumstances, quality of the available staff and the availability of another pharmacist via phone or video link.
The PDA has vigorously stated that this facility has been provided by the regulators for Responsible Pharmacists should it be required by them and strictly for the period of the COVID-19 outbreak only.
The PDA has said there is a ‘free for all’ attitude to the interpretation and implementation of the above directive and they have said that they are aware of employers who have threatened to discipline employees who are unwilling to follow unlawful company diktats. The PDA has also stated that locums have been blacklisted after raising concerns about chaotic pharmacies and unlawful working practices to the superintendent.
Speaking to PIP, Director at the PDA Paul Day commented:
“It’s unacceptable for employers to break the law or encourage their employees to do so. The responsible pharmacist regulations are about safety, and in these unprecedented conditions with all parts of the system under pressure, it could not be more critical that safety is maintained for patients, that standards be maintained and that public confidence in the sector is strengthened.”