Regulator publishes standards in a range of areas including infection control and staff safety

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) has developed operational standards for use across all pharmacies during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a further development in how the PSI regulates the pharmacy sector and is intended to provide guidance and support to those in leadership and governance positions in the retail pharmacy sector in continuing to ensure safe services and a safe environment for patients, public and staff, according to the Society.

The standards cover a range of areas, including infection prevention and control, patient and staff safety, as well as continuity planning to ensure the ongoing provision of pharmacy and medicine services. The standards were developed by the PSI in co-operation with a safety collaborative made up of practising pharmacists, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Department of Health, and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

The operational standards are being implemented initially through a ‘use and learn’ period, which will allow pharmacies to assess themselves against the standards and introduce any changes or additional measures that may be necessary. A clear focus on ongoing quality and safety underpins the standards, which focus on good governance, as well as the pharmacy team, setting and services, said the PSI. “We have provided indicative indicators for each of the five standards which we expect pharmacies to meet. The indicators will help those in governance and leadership positions in pharmacies to identify gaps that exist and to act to address these. The indicators are not intended to be definitive — we welcome and encourage innovation in how pharmacies meet these standards. What matters ultimately is that pharmacies use robust evidence-based indicators to assess the quality and safety of their own services,” said Mr Niall Byrne, Registrar and Chief Officer, PSI.

Temporary closures

Emergency business continuity planning for potential temporary closures is one of the measures that the PSI would expect in any pharmacy that meets the new Covid-19 operational standards, it said. Other measures include ensuring all staff, including pharmacists, take appropriate work breaks, as well as having systems in place to support staff who may be suffering from anxiety or work-related stress due to the current pressures. Mr Byrne said that pharmacy teams are under additional pressures and anxieties due to the pandemic and changing work practices.

“It is important that pharmacy owners, as well as superintendent and supervising pharmacists, provide leadership to all their teams in promoting a supportive and safe work environment. By keeping everyone safe and well, pharmacy leaders play a key role in ensuring continuity of medicine supply and clinical advice to the public.”

The operational standards also provide guidance to pharmacists on how they can continue to ensure safe, quality services, despite the changing work practices and potential resource challenges brought on by Covid-19.

“Prior to the pandemic, members of the public were making an estimated two million visits per month to pharmacies, illustrating the role that pharmacies play in the delivery of healthcare in the community. It is vital to public health [that] patients and members of the public can continue to access pharmacy services safely during the pandemic.

This includes vulnerable patients, such as those in residential care settings, and patients who need to minimise their daily interactions with others.”

Patient counselling

“Some patients may feel anxious about visiting a pharmacy at this time. It is important that everyone feels confident about communicating with their pharmacist about how to take their medicines correctly and safely, even when this cannot be done face-to-face. The standards provide guidance on how pharmacists will continue to provide a high standard of patient counselling, in person or remotely, while also ensuring patient confidentiality and privacy, and adherence to infection prevention and control measures.”

The length of the ‘use and learn’ period will be flexible, according to Mr Byrne. “Over the next two months, we will be engaging with the pharmacy sector in a process of mutual learning to better understand how our standards work in practice. This feedback will help us to develop an efficient and effective monitoring programme for implementation later in 2020/2021.”

Mr Byrne added: “The delivery of healthcare services, including pharmacy services, has shifted dramatically since March. Pharmacies have worked extremely hard to support patients and the public in the face of unprecedented challenges. Our standards will help assure the public that pharmacies are committed to providing consistently high-quality and safe services, as well as supporting pharmacies to respond to further changes and challenges which may arise during the course of the pandemic.” ●