Since the Responsible Pharmacist Regulations came into force in 2008 pharmacists have been allowed to be absent from the pharmacy for periods of up to two hours. This was a sensible allowance to make as it basically clarified and set limits on what pharmacists had been doing for years. The problem is that nobody bothered to tell the Department of Health that this was a good idea.

A pharmacy's contract to provide NHS services is not with the GPhC, it is with the NHS. A pharmacy's Terms of Service require a pharmacy contractor to have a pharmacist on the premises at all times that NHS pharmaceutical services are being provided. This includes all their core and supplementary hours. Therefore, while the GPhC allows a pharmacist to be absent for up to two hours, the NHS does not.

What this means is that, if you are absent from the pharmacy as permitted by the GPhC, the pharmacy will still be in breach of its contract with the NHS. It will then be possible for the NHS to issue the pharmacy with a "breach notice" and it can withhold part of the pharmacy's payment relating to the time of the breach even though the regulator of the profession says it is okay.

This is clearly a peculiar situation and it is made even more peculiar by the fact that applicants who wish to open Distance Selling pharmacies have to state that they will not make use of the GPhC allowances for absence from the pharmacy or objectors can argue that they will not be meeting the specific requirements imposed by the Regulations on distance selling pharmacies, namely that they must have procedures that secure "the uninterrupted provision of essential services, during the opening hours of the premises, to persons anywhere in England who request those services."

Those applying to open distance selling pharmacies may feel somewhat aggrieved that they are being required to state that their pharmacist will never be absent whilst normal retail pharmacies still make use of the Responsible Pharmacist Regulations without the NHS taking action against them for breaching their contract.

The unfairness doesn't stop there. Those applying for distance selling contracts have to satisfy NHS England or the NHS Litigation Authority that they will ensure the "safe and effective provision of essential services". Why is it that those applying for distance selling contracts have to do this whilst those applying for standard contracts do not? You might be forgiven for looking at the Regulations and believing that the NHS doesn't trust those applying for distance selling contracts, or even the GPhC as the regulator of the profession. After all, isn't it the GPhC that is supposed to set and enforce standards relating to the safe and effective provision of services?

So, the next time you need to leave the pharmacy for reasons beyond your control, or as the Regulations put it for "illness or other reasonable cause" you should notify the NHSCB of the closure as soon as you can and resume services as soon as is practicable or you may end up with a breach notice or if you are a repeat offender the pharmacy might even be removed from the pharmaceutical list.