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Introduction: wherever you can help, you’re needed

As a fully-qualified and experienced health and social care professional who has either temporarily or permanently left the pharmacy profession, your colleagues and local community are in urgent need of your support to join the fight against COVID-19 in a number of different ways that don’t have to involve frontline care.

COVID-19 has the potential to put huge additional demand on our NHS and our fellow citizens. In such emergencies, the General Pharmaceutical Council can grant temporary registration to certain groups in emergencies. By offering to return to the profession now, you will make more of a difference than ever before, not just to patients, but to colleagues and the wider community.

This isn’t only about  necessarily about getting back into the pharmacy or onto the wards – there is also a need to provide a calm and stoic presence whose ripple effect is felt way beyond any health or social care setting. Many members of the general public are anxious and need reassurance. Your expertise can help in so many ways, so even if you fall into a group which is considered to be at increased risk, you can still offer valuable support through a variety of roles in secondary, community and primary care.

We greatly appreciate the time and effort that you have already given the profession and the NHS and have put everything in place to ensure re-joining us is easy and safe for you. You can choose how much time you contribute and are free to stop working at any point. If you come back to the NHS, your contract will reflect standard terms and conditions such as working hour protections, pay arrangements, and annual leave entitlement.

Understandably, you will have important questions to ask before making your decision, whether that be around your own health and wellbeing, professional indemnity, pensions or remuneration. 

Your expertise and experience will be valued beyond measure at this difficult time.

We have aimed to answer many of these here but if you have any further queries, do please contact: DHSS.WorkforcePlanning@gov.wales

Will I be paid? If so, how much and how regularly?

You will be remunerated for any work you do in a way that reflects the responsibilities you undertake. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians returning to help in the NHS will be paid based on the roles they come back to fulfil, this may depend on how long you have been off the register and the particular skills you have..  You may be asked to undertake work in line with the grade you were when you left the NHS, in which case you would be paid at that grade.

If you are returning to community pharmacy, terms and conditions are decided by your employer but we would expect you to be paid at the same rate as other pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in similar roles.

What are the pension payment arrangements for staff returning to the NHS to assist in the response to the COVID-19 outbreak?

The government is bringing forward emergency legislation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak that contains important information on pension arrangements for extra NHS staff. It provides for the suspension of the 16-hour rule which currently prevents staff who return to work after retirement from the 1995 NHS Pension Scheme from working more than 16 hours per week, in the first four weeks after retirement. It also provides for:

  • the suspension of both the abatement for special class status holders in the 1995 Scheme
  • the requirement for staff in the 2008 Section and 2015 NHS Pension Scheme to reduce their pensionable pay by 10% if they elect to ‘draw down’ a portion of their benefits and continue working

Taken together, these measures will allow skilled and experienced staff who have recently retired from the NHS to return to work, and retired staff who have already returned to work to increase their commitments if required, without having their pension benefits suspended. 

In community pharmacy, pension payment arrangements will be a matter for each employer.  We envisage most pharmacists and pharmacy technicians returning to community practice will do so on a self-employed basis.

When will these measures take effect?

In emergency situations, the General Pharmaceutical Council has the power to immediately restore pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to the register, if required.  The Council will temporarily restore the name of any pharmacist or pharmacy technician who has retired in the last three years, to the register unless they choose not to be registered.

What will happen when these measures are no longer needed?

A six-month notice period will be given to staff and employers before these measures will cease to apply, at which point the relevant sections of the scheme regulations will take effect again. Staff and employers will therefore have six months’ notice to readjust their working patterns.

Can I help without being in a directly patient-facing role?

Yes. There are ample opportunities for non-patient facing roles, such as working with NHS 111.

Where will I be placed or could I be sent to another part of the country?

Where possible, you will be asked to work in an organisation where you have worked before or are linked with. There might be rare occasions where we would ask if you would consider moving to a different area to cover an acute workforce shortage, but this would be discussed with you beforehand.

Will I have insurance and indemnity cover?

If you work in the NHS arrangements are already in place to indemnity any professional working in an NHS hospital or GP practice. In community pharmacy this will be a matter for employers.  You would still be expected to have personal professional indemnity insurance as you would previously have done.

Will I have to pay to go back onto the GPhC register?

Your expertise and experience will be valued beyond measure, so you won’t have to pay to temporarily return to the GPhC register.

Will I be expected to re-do an appraisal or re-validation process?

No, we appreciate that your existing skills and experience so this will not be necessary.

Will I need clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – formerly the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB)?

Yes, though if you have a recent DBS Certificate or have maintained a subscription to the DBS Update Service then it may not be necessary for a further application to be submitted.  An assessment will be done by your employing organisation, using guidance from NHS Employers, to determine if a further check is required. 

Where a new DBS application is required, the DBS are proposing to extend the scope of their services to include a new fast track check against the adults and/children's barred lists. These arrangements will enable employers to recruit into a regulated activity before receiving the full disclosure certificate, where they have undertaken a risk assessment and put in place appropriate monitoring and supervision.

You will not be required to pay for a DBS check.

I have a co-morbidity or am a primary carer - can I also work?

Given the increased risk of COVID-19 in those with co-morbidity and in the elderly population, we would of course advise against returning to patient-facing clinical work if you belong to this group. However, there are a range of opportunities in non-patient facing roles that we are in urgent need of support with.

What if I become ill when I am working?

If you become ill while working, you should immediately inform your line manager and withdraw from work. If you think you may be ill due to COVID-19 you should follow national guidance in place at the time (likely to be self-isolation).

What if I change my mind and don’t want to work anymore – who do I tell?

You are free to change your mind at any time. If you don't want to work anymore you should tell your employer.

Could I be asked to work in an area I am not familiar with?

It will be for you to decide you’re your employer where you work but it will be in an area you are comfortable and competent to work in.

I work in a part time clinical role with a second non-clinical role - what are the next steps for me?

Discuss with your employers under what circumstances you should temporarily suspend your non-clinical commitments in order to provide more clinical support in your employing organisation. The balance between supporting front-line NHS services directly and delivering the business as usual work of organisations should be carefully balanced in each case.

How long will I be needed for?

You are likely to be needed for a short time period but at this stage, the exact length is unpredictable. You are free to stop working at any point. NHS Contracts are likely to be drawn up for six months with the possibility for extension.  In community pharmacy you will able to work flexibly if you are self employed or to agree terms and conditions with your employer.

Will I have a contract?

If you work in the NHS, you will have a contract that reflects all the working hour protections, pay arrangements, annual leave entitlement and hospital inductions that are provided to NHS employees.  In community pharmacy you can negotiate this with your employer or work in a self employed capacity.

What documentation do I need to have checked before I start work? Can this be done remotely?

Identify checks will be required but this will be a fast-track process with your local HR department.

Will I have a rota or need to work a specific number of hours?

Your working hours and pattern will be agreed between you and the department or pharmacy you work in.

Will you check that I don’t have coronavirus?

If you develop symptoms, national guidance for testing will be followed.

Will I be provided with PPE if required?

Yes.

What happens if I treat patients while having coronavirus?

As soon as coronavirus is identified in staff, they will be withdrawn from work and contact tracing procedures will follow.

I’m pregnant or immunosuppressed. What rights do I have to protect myself from infection at work?

Pregnant women and children are not thought to be at high risk. Immunosuppressed people may well be at increased risk, depending on the reason for the immunosuppression, drug type and dosage, and so on. A risk assessment will be conducted locally and you are advised to avoid COVID-19 exposure, which could mean redeployment to a non-frontline role. There are a range of opportunities in non-patient facing roles that we are in urgent need of support with.

Is there specific advice for other high risk chronic diseases?

People with chronic heart and lung disease have a higher risk of complications and higher mortality than the general population. Given the increased risk of COVID-19 for people in those groups, we would of course advise against returning to patient-facing clinical work. However, there are a range of opportunities in non-patient facing roles that we are in urgent need of support with.

How can I decline if I am asked to work beyond my clinical competence?

The GPhC acknowledges that you may be anxious about working in these very challenging circumstances. These are unprecedented times. If the epidemic worsens it is likely that clinicians will have to work outside their normal field of practice. When deciding the safest and best course of action in the circumstances, we’d encourage you to consider:

  • what is within your knowledge and skills
  • the protection and needs of all patients you have a responsibility towards
  • minimising the risk of transmission and protecting your own health

If a concern is raised about a registered professional, it will always be considered on the specific facts of the case, taking into account the factors relevant to the environment in which the professional is working. The GPhC would also take account of any relevant information about resources, guidelines, or protocols in place at the time.

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