COMMUNITY pharmacists in south Cumbria have argued government support is more vital now than ever, as the sector reels from the impact of recent cuts and growing Covid-19 pressures.

According to a recent survey carried out by trade magazine The Pharmacist, the use of virtual consultations by GP practices has had a major impact on community pharmacy workload.

Two fifths of pharmacists said they have encountered patient safety incidents as a direct result of GPs’ ‘closed door’ policies.

Moreover, an overwhelming majority (87 per cent) say they are spending more time helping patients to access repeat prescriptions from their surgery, while similar numbers report higher numbers of requests for services that might otherwise be provided by a patient’s GP, or are not funded through the community pharmacy contractual framework.

Barrow's only remaining community pharmacy, Coward's, has confirmed it is dealing with a 'significantly' increased workload as a consequence of the virtual consultations.

Sri Kanaparthy, managing director of the Hartington Street chemist, said last week: "There has been a significant increase in the demand for patients seeking advice on minor illnesses from the Pharmacy.

"However, all this increased workload at the pharmacy does not come with any revenue.

"I can only hope that the Department of Health truly recognises the commitment Pharmacy has shown towards the community in the time of this pandemic and reward them with a fair remuneration that is sustainable and fit for purpose"

Like many others in England, the practice has struggled due to Covid-induced financial pressures - including skyrocketing wholesale medicine prices - following on from a round of cuts made to the sector at the end of 2016.

In May, The Pharmacist reported that Coward's 'has had to consider the future and the real possibility of closure'.

But Mr Kanaparthy, argued reports suggesting imminent closure were then premature.

Although none of the area's stretched independent practices have yet been forced to close as a result of the pandemic, community leaders in south Cumbria have argued financial support for the increasingly burdened sector is long overdue.

Commenting this week, South Lakes MP Tim Farron said: “Our amazing local community pharmacies have been on the front line throughout the whole of this crisis.

“I have written to the Government pushing for a long-term increase to funding in recognition of the unprecedented challenges that pharmacies have faced as a result of the pandemic.

“Many community pharmacies are at financial cliff-edge – the sector urgently needs additional funding to help it to manage the new pressures being put on it.”