Pharmacies 'overlooked for coronavirus funding'
Bosses at a West Midland pharmacy chain say a lack of funding has left them struggling to cope with the extra pressures caused by the coronavirus epidemic.
Helen Whitehouse, operations manager of MSN pharmacy which has seven branches across Shropshire and the Black Country, said staff were being forced to work longer hours to cope with the extra demands caused by the crisis, but said they were getting no extra funding from the NHS.
She said the rising cost of drugs and extra demands on delivery drivers were also putting the business under pressure, adding that staff were also struggling to get protective equipment such as masks.
Last week the Government announced it would be giving community pharmacies a £300 million advance to cope with the crisis. But Mrs Whitehouse said this was just early payment of money it would be receiving anyway, and did not constitute any extra money.
Director Ravi Nagra said funding for pharmacies has been frozen for the past two years, meaning a real-terms cut in the money they have available.
The company employs about 70 staff across its branches in Shrewsbury, Pontesbury, Craven Arms, Ettingshall in Wolverhampton and Great Bridge in Tipton, as well as an eighth shop in Birmingham.
Mrs Whitehouse said while there had been much focus on the work of hospitals, doctors and nurses since the pandemic broke out, the role that pharmacies played in fighting the virus was not being recognised.
"We would love some extra funding at this challenging time and are aware that once again pharmacy has been overlooked as a provider of a crucial service," she said.
"With many, if not all, GP practices closing their doors we are finding more and more people presenting at the pharmacy which is putting our staff at additional risk.
"Our staff too are front-line staff with the added concern that protective equipment is in very short supply.
"On a daily basis we are faced with losing staff that are presenting with symptoms or are having to self isolate for one reason or another which leaves existing staff working long hours without days off and overtime having to be paid.
"Drug prices are going through the roof which again is an additional cost to us."
She said the price of 32 paracetamol had risen to £2, while the NHS would only reimburse 84p of that, while the NHS was contributing £7.39 towards the cost of an anti-depressant which had rocketed in price to £13 a box.
"We are going through a rough time with no additional funding from anywhere," said Mrs Whitehouse.
"Our staff who we are extremely proud of, are tired.
"They are worried for their safety as well as the safety of their families."
She said the company had taken on extra drivers to cope with the extra demand for people wanting medication delivered to the door, but said this was again having to be funded by the company, and was being stretched to breaking point.
"Most of our customers are very good, and will come in and get their prescriptions, but there are now a growing number who are self isolating, and there are those who don't want to come for fear of getting the virus," she said.
"We don't want anybody to be in the position where they are not getting the drugs that they need but we can't keep up with the demand for the extra deliveries."
Mrs Whitehouse said while the NHS did initially provide some face masks and other equipment, in recent weeks the company had been finding it increasingly hard to get what was needed, forcing it to source other suppliers at extra expense.