PDAU members overwhelmingly reject Boots pay offer

Pay talks covering 6,000 pharmacists employed by Boots, ongoing since the summer, reach a crucial point as PDAU members reject the company offer of a sub-inflationary 2% increase to pay (plus 0.38% lump sum).

Although shareholders of parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance have continued to receive record levels of dividend, pharmacists’ pay has been reduced in real terms.

The PDAU has said that pharmacists in Boots have seen the purchasing power of their income diminish over the last 8 years, due to a series of sub-inflation increases, culminating in a pay freeze last year.

The PDAU submitted a detailed evidence-based claim for improvements to terms and conditions in June 2021 with the key objective of seeing an increase in pay above inflation.

Boots responded with an offer to increase pay rates by 2%, plus a one-off lump sum worth 0.38% and other measures to reward those in the initial stages of their career.

The company have valued the package at 3.25%5. In assessing the offer made by Boots the PDAU uses the CPI figure which currently stands at 3.1%.

Paul Day, PDAU Director commented:

“Pharmacists’ pay at Boots has reduced in real terms for several years. Last year our members accepted a pay freeze in recognition of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. This year, however, it is time for Boots to recognise the significant contribution our members make to keeping the business successful while also delivering essential healthcare to the public. The union’s objective has been to secure a fair, above inflation increase for everyone covered by these talks, but unfortunately, the company’s current offer fails to do that.

”The dispute will now move to the final stage of the procedure agreed between the PDAU and Boots.  ACAS will be invited to work with both parties to explore ways that Boots could revise their offer and make an across the board increase higher than the current rate of inflation of 3.1%.

Paul Day added:

“We have listened to what the company have said during negotiations and revised our original claim in response. We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached that will meet pharmacists’ expectations and the objectives set out by Boots. We believe the company has the resources to make a revised offer and avoid this dispute continuing. However, the rejection of the current offer by our members does increase the likelihood that Boots’ pharmacists could consider taking some form of industrial action in the coming months. The public relies upon a range of pharmacy services at Boots, such as dispensing prescriptions and flu vaccinations. We call on the company to do everything they can to resolve this dispute as a matter of extreme urgency.”

You can view the Walgreen Boots Alliance latest financial results by clicking here.

PDA urge all pharmacists to voice workplace safety concerns

The Pharmacist Defence Association (PDA) have today launched their sixth annual patient safety survey, which invites pharmacists to share their experience of safety in the workplace.

This survey is open to employed and locum pharmacists wherever they work.

The PDA is urging all pharmacists to take part in the 2021 Safer Pharmacies Survey. They have said that the findings will help them to understand the current working environment for pharmacists and could really help to change things for the better.

Previous PDA Safer Pharmacies Survey results have featured in pharmacy media, national newspapers and on television. This helps to influence and draw attention to the issues pharmacists face which affect patient safety. When pharmacists tell us how things are, we do the same when we meet with the pharmacy regulators, the government and employers.

The survey is based on the PDA Safer Pharmacies Charter.

NI Health Minister praises pharmacy teams

Health Minister for Northern Ireland Robin Swann, who was the chief guest at a National Pharmacy Association (NPA) event this week and thanked NPA members for their ‘unwavering response’ to the coronavirus pandemic and dedication to helping people.

He was among 50-plus guests at a dinner at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, to mark the NPA’s 100th anniversary.

The Minister praised “the tremendous dedication of community pharmacy to public service in Northern Ireland” over the past 100 years.

“Recent events have shown the value of community pharmacy to the health service,” he said.

“Pharmacies have been at the forefront of our Covid-19 response, playing a pivotal role in delivering much needed services to our communities and the people who live in them.”

“I know that Covid-19 generated new and different demands for pharmacies and you’ve worked hard to maintain access to medicines and expert pharmaceutical advice, as well as offering new services.”

“You have been unwavering in your response and dedication and I’d like to thank you on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.”

The Minister continued:

“EU exit and the Northern Ireland protocol have raised concerns of the supply and regulations of medicines. The goal of my department has always been to maintain the continuity of medicines supply and equity of access to treatment for all our people.”

Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, also attended the event.  She said: 

“I’m enormously proud of each and every community pharmacist and member of our pharmacy teams. I can see that things are looking brighter for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland with ambitious plans in place for workforce development, independent prescribing, regulation of technicians and investment in IT.

“The support of the National Pharmacy Association will be absolutely critical to our success in this,” she added.

Approximately £500 was raised for mental health charity Inspire at the event.

Mask use in Scottish secondary schools to continue

The Scottish Government has today said that existing COVID-19 safety mitigations in schools are to remain for now.

Pupils will continue to be required to wear face coverings in secondary school classrooms as they begin to return from the October break.

Secondary-aged pupils, and staff in primary and secondary schools, will also still require face coverings in communal areas or when moving around the building. 

Scottish Government has said that the Chief Medical Officer has advised that while there are ‘encouraging signs, a more cautious approach would allow more time for 12 to 15-year-olds to take up the vaccination’.

Confirming that school mitigations will remain in place for now, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville also urged continued vigilance to protect pupils and staff.

Ms Somerville said:

“In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in COVID-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time-being. Progress with vaccinating 12-15 year olds has been remarkable and is already over 40%. However, this was only rolled out a few weeks ago and allowing further time will mean that that encouraging figure rises even higher.

“This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data. We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at earliest possible time. 

“While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people, and all education staff, remains the overriding priority. There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Scottish scientist who discovered insulin commemorated with new UK coin

The work of University of Aberdeen graduate and later Regius Professor, JJR Macleod, is celebrated on a new 50p coin in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.

Macleod, along with Dr Frederick Banting, Dr Charles Best and Dr James Collip, discovered insulin – a treatment that transformed Type 1 diabetes from a short and almost certain death sentence to a manageable condition.

It is the first time the historic medical breakthrough, more often associated with Canada where the work was undertaken, has been celebrated on a UK coin.  

Inspired by an image of human insulin crystals through a microscope, the design by renowned artist Iris De La Torre, features a geometric pattern repeat using hexagons and circular shapes on the canvas of an official UK 50p coin.

The University of Aberdeen was a consultee in the design, providing input on Macleod and diabetes research as part of the creative process.

It is the fifth release in The Royal Mint’s ‘Innovation in Science’ series, which pays tribute to some of the greatest scientific discoveries and follows coins in recognition of inventors Charles Babbage, John Logie Baird, Rosalind Franklin and Stephen Hawking, as part of the collectable series.

Image credit: University of Aberdeen

Professor Mirela Delibegovic, Director of the University of Aberdeen’s Cardiovascular and Diabetes Centre, who consulted in this project, says the release of the UK coin continues the rehabilitation of the memory of JJR Macleod and his role in leading the team which made the eventual insulin breakthrough.

“JJR Macleod was a brilliant scientist who received his education at Aberdeen Grammar School and then the University of Aberdeen,” she said.

“His credentials as a leader in developing training and education, as well as his reputation and prowess as an academic physiologist, caught the attention of the University of Toronto, where the insulin breakthrough was then made in the laboratory he headed.

“But despite being jointly awarded the Nobel Prize with Banting for their work in 1923, Macleod’s name became mired in accusations that he claimed credit where it was not deserved.

“During his lifetime, Macleod’s name was distanced from the breakthrough however the work of a Canadian historian in retelling the story of insulin sixty years later, dispelled many of the myths contained within most popular accounts, which attribute the discovery to Canadian researchers, Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

“His investigations detailed a far more complex story, revealing that the discovery was indeed a team effort for which Macleod rightfully earned his credit.

“Celebrating the centenary of the discovery of insulin on a UK coin supports the rehabilitation of his memory and the legacy of his work both in Aberdeen and beyond.”

JJR Macleod returned to the University of Aberdeen 1928 as Regius Professor of Physiology, teaching and researching until he died in 1935 aged 58.

His legacy has inspired generations of Aberdeen diabetes researchers, including Professor Delibegovic who leads a research team examining causes of insulin resistance.

Professor Brian Frier, an internationally-recognised specialist in diabetes and former Vice-President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, also welcomed the release of the UK coin.

“The discovery of insulin is frequently and inaccurately attributed to Banting and Best, and for decades Macleod was effectively airbrushed out of medical history,” he said.

“The importance of the research of this quiet and self-effacing Scottish scientist cannot be over-estimated and he deserves to be as well-known to the public as is Sir Alexander Fleming for his discovery of penicillin”. 

The 100 Years of Insulin 50p coin is available to purchase from today at The Royal Mint website.

You can view and indeed purchase the new coin here.

Pharmacy bodies welcome winter plan focus on CPCS

A new NHS plan for England backed by £250 million aims to increase capacity in general practice and encourage GPs to provide more patient consultations face-to-face.

The NHS, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, has today published a blueprint for improving access to GP appointments for patients alongside supporting GPs and their teams.

Surgeries will be provided with additional funding to boost their capacity to increase the proportion of appointments delivered face to face, as part of a major drive to support general practice and level up performance, including additional efforts to tackle abuse against staff.

The measures, including a £250 million winter access fund from NHS England, will enable GP practices to improve availability so that patients who need care can get it, often on the same day if needed. The investment will fund locums and support from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, with a focus on increasing capacity to boost urgent same-day care. This is in addition to £270 million invested over the previous 11 months to expand capacity and support GPs.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, said:

“Improving access to high quality general practice is essential for our patients and for the rest of the NHS too.

“It is a personal priority and today NHS England is taking both urgent and longer term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support.”

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said:

“I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. I also want to thank GPs and their teams for their enormous efforts in the most challenging times in living memory.

“Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.

“Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.”

One aspect of the plan is to require GP practices to engage with the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), as a condition for receiving the winter access fund.

Pharmacy organisations have broadly welcomed the fact that GPs are being incentivised to engage with the CPCS to help free up GP appointments and makes good use of community pharmacists’ skills to handle minor illnesses.

Talking to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 today, NPA chair Andrew Lane said:

“Everyone in the NHS – pharmacists, nurses, hospital staff and GPs – have worked incredibly hard over the past two years and stepped up to keep people well during the pandemic.

“The way people have accessed primary care has changed, with more people using the phone or going online, but very often people do want to talk a health care professional in person.

“Nearly two million people visit a pharmacy every day, usually without an appointment, to get highly convenient, face-to-face advice and treatment.”

He told the programme that community pharmacists could do even more to take pressure off GPs in the future if the NHS invests in services that incorporate independent prescribing.

“This is all happening at a time when funding for pharmacies is falling and hundreds of pharmacies have closed over the last few years.  It’s good if money has been found for general practice, but let’s not forget the rest of the NHS team who are working just as hard on the frontline of the health service.”

Earlier this week, Andrew visited Greenlight Pharmacy in London with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, to discuss what more pharmacies can do to alleviate pressure on the NHS.

It’s estimated that there are nearly 20 million GP appointments each year for minor illnesses that could be handled at the local pharmacy.

The Company Chemists’ Association made the following comments:

“Our members are acutely aware of the challenges currently being faced across primary care. We welcome NHS England’s recognition of the value the community pharmacy sector can provide to primary care by delivering key services such as the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) and their increasing clinical work such as forward-thinking oral contraception pilots. We are pleased to see the CPCS acknowledged as a key asset to support patient access and alleviate GP appointments.

“There is, however, a need to recognise the interdependencies of primary care. The challenges patients are experiencing in accessing care can only be solved by supporting every part of the workforce, and that includes community pharmacy. There are significant pressures mounting on community pharmacy, particularly on resource and capacity, therefore to enable pharmacies to deliver on a greater scale an increased investment is required. Only through a holistic approach can patients’ needs be truly met.”

RPS England welcomed the news about the expansion of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service.

Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, said:

“Pharmacists across general practice and community pharmacy have played a vital role throughout the pandemic. I welcome the Health Secretary’s recognition of pharmacy teams’ dedication to patient care and their importance to the future of the health service.

“As we head into winter and look ahead to the NHS recovery, the Government and NHS must ensure it uses the expertise of the whole of the primary care workforce to support the health service.

“Today’s announcement highlights the importance of services like the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service and boosting its uptake to support patients, NHS and GPs – a key focus of our recent roundtable. I’d now look to the Government and NHS to work with professional bodies, patient groups and others across the health service on how we can build on this to include services such as supplying medicines without the need to visit a GP.

“Community pharmacy will be central to supporting the NHS recovery, including through increasing use of Pharmacist Independent Prescribers and commissioning innovative services to enhance patient care, safety and better manage demand across the NHS. Funding for implementation, education and training will be key to making this a success and I look forward to working with Government and the NHS to make this happen.

“We know how much the public value pharmacy teams and frontline staff should never have to face abuse from a small minority. I welcome the Government’s zero tolerance of abuse. Its pledge for support for staff and clear communication for the public must extend to the whole of primary care.”

See more details about the NHSE/I Winter Access Fund.