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PSI publishes overview report on COVID-19 Operational Standards for Pharmacies

July 21, 2021

The PSI has published its first overview report on the implementation of the COVID-19 Operational Standards For Pharmacies, which were introduced last year on a “use and learn” basis. The Standards provide guidance to those in leadership and governance positions in pharmacies on how best to ensure safe services and environments for patients, public and staff during the pandemic. The report highlights a range of good practices found in pharmacies as well as noting some areas requiring improvement.

“We are encouraged by the positive response of community pharmacies to the Standards. Their introduction has helped align pharmacy regulation in Ireland with how healthcare settings, more generally, are regulated. Internationally, regulatory standards, and the monitoring of performance against standards, are recognised for their effectiveness in driving improvements in quality and safety in healthcare, and in supporting good governance and strong leadership across healthcare settings,” said Niall Byrne, Registrar and Chief Officer of the PSI.

The PSI’s Operational Standards cover a range of areas including infection prevention and control, patient and staff safety, as well as continuity planning to help ensure the ongoing provision of pharmacy and medicine services. As part of its initial monitoring of the Standards, the regulator conducted over 40 visits to pharmacists. Mr Byrne said “While this is a small number of community pharmacies, we learned a lot from our engagement with pharmacists and their wider pharmacy teams, gaining valuable insights into how the Standards are working in practice. Our monitoring visits allowed us see the many good practices and innovative measures that pharmacy teams have put in place to protect their patients, communities and staff, while continuing to deliver essential healthcare services, despite the ongoing risks and challenges presented by COVID-19”. These good practices reflect very well on the commitment and professionalism of community pharmacists and of their pharmacy teams. As regulator, we believe it is very important to highlight good practices as part of how we assure the public that they can trust the quality of healthcare services and advice available through their local pharmacy.”

According to the PSI’s overview report, these initial visits also highlighted areas that require further improvement. For example, there was some evidence that not all pharmacists are benefiting from appropriate rest breaks during their working day. PSI is also concerned that, due to the necessary measures implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in pharmacies (social distancing measures, PPE and virtual consultations), patients may not always be receiving the appropriate level of counselling on their medicines. In addition, PSI also noted a lack of structures and processes to capture patient feedback on the quality of care they receive. “These are three important areas of patient safety and wellbeing which both pharmacies and the regulator need to focus on into the future” said Mr. Byrne.

“We will be doing further monitoring over the coming months to learn more about good practices in use and to encourage wider adoption of the Standards. Our learnings will inform the further development of our monitoring and judgement framework. This will assist us in carrying out ongoing assessments of performance against the standards once the ‘use and learn’ period has concluded at the end of 2021.”

Mr Byrne added: “The PSI is keen to see the Operational Standards adopted across the community pharmacy sector as they support good practice, allow innovation and help to assure the public that pharmacies are championing safety and quality. Fundamentally, our ongoing work with stakeholders is directed towards building awareness among the public of the standard of healthcare services and advice that should be expected by all who visit a community pharmacy.”

The pharmacy profession has also been supportive in relation to the Standards. Liam Butler, pharmacist and owner of an independent pharmacy in Birr, Co Offaly, said “When applying the standards in my pharmacy I found that they were easy to use and quite practical in their approach. The standards allow a more flexible approach to regulation while also driving quality improvement in healthcare, which will ultimately benefit patients.” Emily Kelly, former superintendent pharmacist of a chain of pharmacies, said “The standards provide a really useful resource to help you reflect on your practice and identify any gaps. In my experience, the standards had a positive impact on driving improvements within our pharmacies and I welcome the introduction of the new standards-based approach by the PSI.”

“Overall, our experience with the development and implementation of standards, to date, is that these can play an important role in how the PSI regulates community pharmacies into the future. We consider that providing a statutory basis for standards is, among other matters, an important legislative reform issue, which we are keen to progress under our current Corporate Strategy 2021 – 2023. Our strategic goal is to work with the Department of Health and other stakeholders, to see the COVID-19 Operational Standards, and other relevant standards, placed on a statutory basis within the not-too-distant future,” Mr Byrne stated.”

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