Last updated: 5 May 2020
Pharmacies are implementing special measures to deal with the pressure of the coronavirus crisis.
These include banning browsing for non-essential items, placing limits on in-demand items, altering opening hours, enforcing social distancing in stores and introducing prescription home deliveries for shielding patients.
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What help is there for vulnerable or elderly customers?
With all pharmacies emphasising that people should not come in to a store if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating, what can you do if you need help getting essential health products, medicines or prescriptions?
In the first instance, pharmacies advise getting a friend or family member to pick up prescriptions and anything you need, and dropping them off outside your house. There are also local mutual aid groups available to run pharmacy errands.
Pharmacists are among those (as well as other health and social care workers, and NHS 111 staff) who can use the NHS volunteer network to match volunteers to people who need help with things such as picking up and delivering prescriptions.
NHS England says pharmacies must make sure that a home delivery option is available to people at high risk of complications from COVID-19 who are advised to isolate at home for 12 weeks and meet the ‘shielding’ criteria. This option has to be offered if their prescription items cannot be collected and delivered by a family member, friend, carer or volunteer.
The Welsh government has announced a volunteer-run prescription delivery service for shielding patients with assistance from healthcare workers and the Royal Mail.
In Scotland, shielding patients are advised to organise prescription deliveries through family and friends in the first instance, or by contacting their local authority.
Boots has waived its delivery charge for customers over 70 and those with underlying health conditions who have been asked to self-isolate.
Pharmacists also have the discretion to waive charges in an emergency and if there is no other way for a patient to get their medicines.
If you’re struggling to get hold of any vital supplies, talk to your pharmacist as they should be able to help.
Boots bans browsing and Superdrug dials down non-essential items
Boots has stopped permitting people to enter some of its stores to browse, in an effort to adhere to social distancing rules and allow staff to focus on customers with prescriptions and essential needs.
At some Boots stores, customers must now say what they intend to buy before coming in, and if it is an essential item like medicine, a member of staff will find the item for them so they can go straight to pay.
A Boots spokesperson told us:
“We are prioritising the sale of essential medicines, prescription and toiletry items both in store and online. Our premium beauty counters are no longer staffed. However, if a customer wishes to pick up some additional products from our self-service area whilst in the store, then they should normally be able to do so.
People will notice measures being taken by our store colleagues to allow them to focus on serving customers with prescriptions and essential needs including social distancing restrictions, temporary breaks for cleaning, and the use of protection equipment such as perspex screens and visors.
In some cases our stores may temporarily cordon off areas of the shop floor, depending on their size and resources available (for example; staffing levels due to isolating colleagues).”
Superdrug to prioritise stock of essential items such as medicines and hygiene products
Superdrug has also been implementing extra measures, including no longer restocking non-essential items, such as cosmetics, in its stores. It is also removing cosmetics ‘tester’ samples and closing fragrance counters.
It is encouraging customers to purchase from its online store or use home delivery where possible, to avoid unnecessary contact with others.
A Superdrug spokesperson told us:
“We are only restocking everyday essentials and healthcare products. We have closed our dedicated fragrance counters, removed testers from stores and will not be replenishing stock of cosmetic or fragrance product lines from our warehouses.
We also have put in place several measures with the safety of store colleagues in mind including perspex screens at till point, floor vinyls to ensure social distancing and restricting the number of customers allowed in stores at any one time.”
Pharmacies introduce purchasing limits on popular items
The Chief Pharmaceutical Officer has requested that pharmacies restrict quantities of soap, hand sanitiser and over-the-counter medicines (including painkillers, and cough and cold products) sold to each person, so there is enough for everyone.
- Boots – has also limited the sale of other items including: thermometers, tissues and wipes, soap, hand wash, feminine hygiene products, baby formula and baby sterilising products
- Rowlands pharmacy – has introduced a limit of two items from any product category
- Superdrug – is limiting baby formula and hand sanitiser to two items per person
Unprecedented demand means that many pharmacy shelves are still looking bare as pharmacies wait for stock deliveries to catch up.
Coronavirus and medicine shortages – we explain what’s behind the issues
Pharmacies enforce social distancing
Following in the footsteps of the supermarket stores, the big pharmacy chains including Boots, Lloyd’s, Rowlands and Superdrug have all announced that their stores may need to enforce social distancing measures.
This involves limits on how many people can be in a store at one time (at Lloyd’s branches it’s two people at a time), encouragement of contactless payments and requests that customers keep two metres apart in store and while queuing inside or outside.
If you need to go to the pharmacy, bear in mind these measures mean it might take longer to do your shopping, and try to go at a less busy time if you can.
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Changes in pharmacy opening hours and services
Increased pressure on pharmacy services has prompted most chains to alter their opening hours.
Boots told us: ‘In some instances, stores may take the local decision to flex their usual opening hours to manage unforeseen circumstances, such as additional cleaning requirements, catching up with the high volume of prescriptions or reduced staffing.’
- Lloyd’s, Superdrug and Rowland’s pharmacies are opening an hour later at 10am, and closing for an extra hour during the day.
- Superdrug and Lloyd’s also announced they are closing some stores until further notice. It’s worth checking your local store as things will likely differ by area depending on circumstances.
Many in-person pharmacy services have also been paused, including Boots’ opticians and hearing care services, and Lloyd’s in-store health services including blood pressure and cholesterol checks.
Online pharmacy deliveries stopped or delayed
There is increased demand for online pharmacy deliveries, so the big brands have all warned about potential delays.
Boots said that their delivery times had been extended, Lloyd’s has temporarily paused online orders and flagged extended delivery times for existing orders. Rowland’s is not taking extra deliveries at all.
Repeat prescription services – including those from Boots and Lloyd’s – are continuing to run, but pharmacies have been instructed not to issue repeats before they are due, and not to issue more than usual.
You can keep up to date on our latest coverage over on our coronavirus advice hub.