Strike action ‘real concern’ as pharmacies struggle to cope

NHS: Malcolm Harrison looks ahead of strike action

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Members of the Royal College of Nursing will strike for the first time in its 106-year history amid an ongoing pay dispute. With the mass walkout of nurses tipped to last up to six months if a resolution cannot be reached, other organisations within the NHS are set to face a sharp “spike” in patients. Speaking to the Daily Express, Chief Executive of the Company Chemists’ Association Malcolm Harrison warned many patients seeking care would be “displaced” to pharmacies, which are already under pressure from a dire funding gap and critically low levels of staff.

Mr Harrison told “Any strike action is of real concern for both the system and patients as a whole. As an individual citizen, it does concern me.”

Speaking of the strike action planned by the RCN, he reported: “It has been said that the NHS would be able to operate a bank holiday kind of service. One assumes that A&E departments would still be able to work but there will be a certain level of displacement.

“People, understanding that there is strike action going on in one place, will look elsewhere to receive their care.”

He added: “I would not be surprised at all if we see another spike [in patients] when the public is aware that there won’t be as many nurses available in hospitals.”

Mr Harrison indicated pharmacies had already struggled to cope under the mounting pressure during the Coronavirus pandemic, which saw an “enormous uplift” in patients turning towards pharmacies.

He revealed: “We are still seeing about a 30 percent uplift on patients now post-Covid compared to pre-Covid.”  

Given the lack of funding and fierce shortage of pharmacy staff also reported by Mr Harrison, he suggested pharmacies could collapse under the pressure of the upcoming strike action.

He said: “Once again pharmacies will be the last man standing to help patients in need, but with pharmacies closing at an increasing rate, they might not be able to provide this safety net for the NHS for much longer.”

Read more: NHS ‘faces its worst winter

The Royal College of Nursing announced last week that the majority of members had voted in favour of strike action amid an ongoing dispute over NHS pay rises.

The government has offered most NHS staff a pay rise of 4.75 percent, but the RCN is demanding a pay rise of five percent above inflation, which would be an increase of over 17 percent.

The RCN has reported strike action could continue until May 2023 under the current mandate if their demands are not met.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has described the proposed “massive” pay rise as “unaffordable” given the current state of the UK economy.

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RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “This is a defining moment in our history, and our fight will continue through strike action and beyond for as long as it takes to win justice for the nursing profession and our patients.”

She added: “Ministers must look in the mirror and ask how long they will put nursing staff through this.”

The Department for Health and Social Care told the Daily Express pharmacies play a “crucial role” in supporting patients and indicated the service was supported with funds of “£2.6 billion a year”.

However, Mr Harrison expressed his concern that pharmacies may not be able to play this “crucial role” for much longer if pressures on the NHS continue to rise.

He said: “After years of underfunding and the huge cost pressure of a workforce crisis brought about by poorly planned NHS recruitment, the pharmacy network is on the brink of collapse.”

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