Urgent call for extra pharmacy services to help with coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 13:59 07 April 2020 | UPDATED: 14:21 09 April 2020

Stansted Surgery/Stansted Pharmacy. Photo: Google Street View.

Stansted Surgery/Stansted Pharmacy. Photo: Google Street View.

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A parish councillor is calling for urgent action to expand pharmaceutical services in Stansted

L-R: The new and old opening times at the Boots pharmacy on Cambridge Road. Photo: Daniel Brett.L-R: The new and old opening times at the Boots pharmacy on Cambridge Road. Photo: Daniel Brett.

Daniel Brett, who is part of Stansted Parish Council, says there is only one Boots pharmacy licensed to hand out medicines, despite repeated efforts by him and local residents to give another chemist dispensing powers.

He says the already “very small” Boots pharmacy is now busier than ever because of the coronavirus crisis and the “huge queues” all the way down the main road can lead to an up to two hours wait. Stansted resident Ray Woodcock, 79, also said some people queueing do not respect the social distancing guidelines, prompting fears of the virus spreading.

But the challenges do not stop here.

Cllr Brett said that around the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the lockdown to tackle the coronavirus spread, Boots has displayed a “drastic cut in opening hours”. They were previously open Monday to Friday from 7am to 7pm, and Saturday 9am-5pm. Now, they are only open between 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm.

He pointed out there is a chemist right underneath the surgery in Stansted, who could relieve the pharmaceutical pressures in the area – should it have a dispensing licence.

Because they do not have a licence to give medicines at their Stansted site, Cllr Brett says the drugs are brought by a van from Streatham in London, where the pharmacy has a clinic.

He added: “It doesn’t cost the NHS anything to give the licence. They are just asking for a temporary licence to take the pressure off.

“It just requires someone to sign a form. It can be dealt with with the strike of the pen.”

The councillor said the pharmacy requires the help of the Health Secretary of State Matt Hancock, which is why he and other local residents have been urging Saffron Walden MP Kemi Badenoch to intervene: “I have emailed her and other people have emailed her. If she acts on this, hopefully she can convince the relevant minister for a licence.”

Cllr Brett and Mr Woodcock said Kemi Badenoch and Dipti Patel, pharmacies lead at Essex County Council, had a meeting on the topic but no solution was found.

Mr Woodcock recently contacted Dipti Patel for help but he said he was told ‘it is not her decision’.

He disagrees because she is ‘in charge of the Essex Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment.’ The document, dated 2018, specifies Stansted is ‘adequately served with NHS licensed pharmacies’.

Cllr Brett and Mr Ray Woodcock said the assessment is due for review at the end of this year, but that the matter is much more urgent in the light of coronavirus.

“We have not heard back, we are waiting for guidance from the government. We want the licence now, not for the assessment to start at the end of the year, it is far too late. It can still be withdrawn once the emergency is gone,” said Cllr Brett.

Ray Woodcock said he has been trying to secure additional pharmaceutical services since early 2017. He launched a petition and gathered 500 signatures in front of the building where Stansted’s surgery is.

He said: “The petition was asking people if they support an additional licensed pharmacy in Stansted. I only had four or five refusals.

“If you are unwell, you visit the GP in Castle Maltings and they give you a prescription. The only choice that people have is to walk on a steep hill and go to Boots. If you have a respiratory problem or are unwell, the last thing you want is to walk on Chapel Hill, because by the time you get to the top you are absolutely knackered.”

This newspaper has contacted Dipti Patel, who said the problem is not within her remit and the responsibility belongs to NHS England.

Kemi Badenoch said she had been working with Stansted Parish Council since 2017 to support a new pharmacy in Stansted, and that due to her input the Needs Assessment took place.

Mrs Badenoch added: “The outcome to determine the case for further capacity in Stansted was due imminently. That has been put on hold due to the current crisis.

“The decision to increase pharmacy provision in Stansted is up to local NHS managers. I know that Essex County Council are doing their part in supporting vulnerable residents and I will liaise with them to see how we can support Stansted residents at this difficult time.”

A spokesperson for Boots said: “We would like to thank all our patients and customers for their patience and support at this difficult time. All pharmacies are facing unprecedented challenges at the moment and our teams are working tirelessly to be there for their community. Our stores may alter opening times due to staff needing to self-isolate, perform deep cleaning more regularly, or dispense prescriptions. Our opening hours are in line with the new NHS Standard Operating Procedures for pharmacies.


“Our pharmacy store on Cambridge Road in Stansted has changed its opening hours slightly. On Good Friday and Easter Monday, we are also going to be open 2-5pm to help manage prescriptions.


“We have recently issued best practice guidance to our colleagues to help them manage queues both inside and outside our stores. Where possible, our stores will have designated colleagues assigned to support this process but will vary store to store based on their size, demand and resources available. Part of their role will be to assist in the prioritisation of needs by taking in prescriptions and identifying patients waiting to collect prescriptions, as well as those who are looking for urgent attention from a healthcare professional. If a patient is looking to hand in a non-urgent prescription, the team will advise them on the best time to return and collect and they can be notified through our text message service.


“In the meantime, here are some practical ways that can help patients with their prescriptions:


- Try to plan ahead. If you have a repeat prescription, please try to order your next one seven days before it’s due. This will help us deal with urgent requests more swiftly.


- Put your contact details on your prescription. We’ll call you when your medicines are ready to collect. Or we can text you if you sign up to our reminder service. Please try not to ring the pharmacy unless it’s absolutely urgent.


- Adhere to the new social distancing measures in stores.


- If you can, sign up to our free online NHS repeat prescription service via Boots.com or the Boots App to arrange to have your medicines delivered by Royal Mail.


- If you are over 70 or have been advised you are at high risk, we can offer free prescription delivery from our stores to those most at need.


- Please vary the time you visit the pharmacy. Many people are queuing before the pharmacy opens which causes a backlog straight away.


- And remember, if you have symptoms such as a temperature or new continuous cough please don’t come to the pharmacy.”


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