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Community pharmacy services

NHS volunteers to begin delivering medicines amid safety concerns for vulnerable patients

Pharmacies will be able to ask for help with medicines deliveries through an online portal, but there have been concerns that “fraudsters” could exploit this system.

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.

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Pharmacist dispensing medicine


Approved volunteers will be able to view pharmacies' requests for medicines deliveries through an online portal

Hundreds of thousands of NHS volunteer responders will begin delivering medicines and driving vulnerable patients to appointments from today (7 April 2020), under a scheme launched in England.

Pharmacies will be able upload requests for help with medicines deliveries through an online portal, and approved volunteers will be able to pick the job they want to do that day and close the task once complete.

However, major concerns about the scheme have emerged from pharmacy leaders, with Simon Dukes, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, warning that it could be used by fraudsters preying on vulnerable people.

County councils have also warned that because of pharmacies’ concerns about the scheme, not all vulnerable people will be able to access vital medicines.

GPs have written to millions of vulnerable patients with conditions that put them at high risk if infected with COVID-19, asking them to remain in their homes and avoid face-to-face contact for 12 weeks.

After a call for volunteers to help deliver medicines and food, more than 750,000 people signed up via the GoodSAM app — three times the original target.

The Royal Voluntary Service, which is handling the volunteering side of the scheme, said it will have completed checks for all applications by the end of  7 April 2020. Volunteers will then be available to carry out medicines deliveries for pharmacies.

However, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 7 April 2020, Dukes said: “I am concerned, therefore, that fraudsters could use this system for their own ends, by gaining trust, by gaining information on people and using it to exploit those people who are currently shielded and locked away in their own homes.”

He also said he was still waiting for an agreement on a national scheme for medicines delivery funded through pharmacies, despite this being promised by NHS England last month.

Concerns about the voluntary scheme have also been raised by the County Councils Network, which represents 36 of England’s biggest councils. Julian German, rural spokesperson for the network, said that, at present, pharmacies are unable to take up the offer of volunteer help as they have concerns over privacy and who would be liable if something went wrong.

He added: “Many county leaders are reporting real concerns that elderly and sick people may go without medicines, particularly those in rural and remote areas.

“This is not the pharmacies’ fault, who are doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances, but it is clear they may not have the capacity alone to deliver to all residents who need their support.” 

The Pharmaceutical Journal asked NHS England what procedures volunteers would undergo to ensure they were able to deliver medicines safely, but the press office had yet to respond at the time of publication.

More to follow


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207879

Readers' comments (1)

  • My insurers told me under no circumstances to use them, and any mis-delivery or mistake would be counted as a dispensing error against me.

    I will not be putting myself, or my patients at that kind of litigation or health risk.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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