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Community pharmacy services

Community pharmacies to use volunteers for patient medication deliveries

‘NHS volunteer responders’ will be asked to deliver medicines to people’s homes on behalf of community pharmacy.

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‘NHS volunteer responders’ will be asked to deliver medicines to people’s homes on behalf of community pharmacy

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

To learn more about coronavirus, please visit: https://www.rpharms.com/resources/pharmacy-guides/wuhan-novel-coronavirus

Community pharmacies will be asked to make use of NHS England’s ‘volunteer army’ to deliver medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS England has said.

In a webinar on 25 March 2020, Jill Loader, deputy director of pharmacy commissioning at NHS England and Improvement, told community pharmacists that volunteers who signed up to help the NHS through the Good Sam app, which launched on 24 March 2020, would be called upon to deliver medicines to patients’ homes on behalf of community pharmacy.

Loader said the postcode-based app “puts out a request to the nearest volunteer who said they would provide those services”. She added that when the volunteers signed up, they were expected to have read advice about delivering medicines.

The service will exclude the delivery of controlled drugs, and “if any medicines are left at the end, they’ve been told they have to go back to the pharmacy”, she said.

The service is expected to start “very soon”.

Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said pharmacies with “concerns about a particular volunteer” would be able “to report that to the volunteer organisation body” but said further details would be set out in upcoming guidance.

He added that volunteers would be vetted as part of the national voluntary programme.

Loader’s comments come after NHS England and NHS Improvement announced on 17 March 2020 that pharmacists would be reimbursed for the cost of delivering medicines to vulnerable patients with COVID-19 as well as to those who are self-isolating.

However, community pharmacists have expressed concern about the safety of the service for patients and the liability for pharmacists.

Nat Mitchell, pharmacist at the independent J.W.W. Allison and Sons Ltd in Cockermouth, Cumbria, said the service “makes a mockery of everything we do every day”.

“Delivering medicines is a high-pressured job — when we replaced our driver, who retired after ten years, his replacement lasted two days,” he said. “We aren’t in the city, we have a lot of villages here and places just have a house name – things could get left in the wrong place or [put] over people’s hedges.”

“It’s ludicrous to say it can be done by volunteers — just pay people [to do the job] properly.”

Graham Phillips, superintendent pharmacist and managing director of Manor Pharmacy Group, which owns branches in Hertfordshire and Kent, said he is not against the service “if it’s organised and well thought out”.

“But medicines are not the same as delivering a CD. If a CD goes missing, Amazon sends you another one. If medicines are delivered to the wrong, and [older], confused patient — and it has happened — and they take those medicines and they die, who is responsible?”

Raj Matharu, chief officer of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich, and Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Local Pharmaceutical Committees said the service is “an absolutely ridiculous idea”.

“What happens if the wrong medicines are delivered or if the patient rings up and says you haven’t delivered my co-codamol?

“NHS pharmacy leaders seem to be completely detached at the moment. What they should be doing is allocating pharmacies funds so that they can deliver medicines or bring in external couriers.”

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said the RPS is working on best practice guidance around the service.

“We have a lot of questions — we have known about this kind of thing for two weeks at least, so I am a bit perturbed that we still don’t have something concrete,” she said.

“Pharmacy phone lines are jammed with people asking how [to] sign up to their free medicines delivery service after Boris Johnson said pharmacies will deliver for free, but there is no such service.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207854

Readers' comments (4)

  • I am a retired Pharmacist & have just started delivering Methadone & Buprenorphine to patients/clients self isolating due to Covid 19. It is a bit chaotic at the moment as we are still expected to queue with the general public as at most pharmacies the phone isn't being answered to let them know we are outside. There are 2 of us at a time to deliver the medication. We phone the patient on arrival to get them to come to the door & leave it on the doorstep & wait until they open the door. A photo is taken of patient with medication. It is a long winded process but it's early days. Lets all hope the situation is over soon.

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  • Hello just wanted to give feedback on being a Volunteer for the NHS, I have been doing pharmacy deliveries now for 2 weeks, we use a Goodsam app which continuously follows all volunteers by GPS via smart phone, there are several pharmacies and hospitals using NHS volunteers in the Redbridge area, we get an alert on the phone and we can choose to accept the request or decline it, when you accept the request you get a message advising which pharmacies/ hospitals need our help, we then go to that pharmacy and show our NHS Volunteer profile on our phones so the pharmacist knows who is taking the medication. I should add here that all NHS volunteers are vetted before they can join including DBS background check. When we get to the patients house we have to first ask for their name and address, if it does not match the medication details , we take the medication back to the pharmacy, once delivered we close the request as completed. As you can see it is not rocket science, not a high pressured job, and not ridiculous. We certainly do not leave medication over a hedge or on the door step. With this covid 19 a lot more elderly patients that used to collect medication now rely on deliveries which has put a strain on pharmacy deliveries so NHS volunteers are utilised to lessen the strain and enable more elderly patients to get their medication delivered to the door swiftly without delay. Finally there is also a contactless process to delivering, we ring the bell step back 2 meters , verify name address and leave the medication on a surface , then take a further steps back of 2 meters and let the patient retrieve the medication. Hope this experience as a volunteer enables the pharmacies to understand our role as volunteers during this crisis.

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  • I am an NHS responder who has delivered medicines for a pharmacy and I don't agree with Simon above.
    As far as I am aware, I have not been DBS checked - the check carried out to register as a volunteer was a simple identity check. The pharmacist also confirmed my identity with my driving licence.
    Also, there has been no check as to my level of exposure to the virus - the only requirement is to be between 18 and 70 and showing no symptoms. My partner is working at a Salvation Army hostel and I have now decided it is too risky for me to continue delivering medicine.
    I don't think that checking the identity of the recipient of the medicine is that straightforward (I have received no training in this) and there are other issues that arise eg. should I enter supported living accommodation if the entrance desk is unmanned, should I help an elderly person with a walking frame pick up their medication from the floor, should I wear a facemask?
    It's easy to belittle the job of a pharmacy delivery driver, but I believe an experienced professional would do a much better job than I could, with less risk of infection to patients.

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  • NB. There is now an NHS Responder Plus scheme, where all volunteers do have a current DBS check in place. From my experience, I think pharmacists should be requiring this from the volunteers they use in order to protect the most vulnerable people.

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