Blog: ​​​​​​​Navigating risk in a changing operating environment


Diversification can be key to business stability and growth as companies across the country are finding themselves navigating changing operating environments within their industries and professions, offering potentially rich rewards. But Paul Coleman, managing director of NPA Insurance, argues hand-in-hand with such potential for growth comes very real potential for more complex risk.

One sector entering a fundamental transformation is that of community healthcare. In October 2019, the NHS launched the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service. Introduced to relieve pressure on the wider NHS in the coronavirus pandemic, pharmacists and pharmacies countrywide are set to play a far bigger role within the urgent care system. 

Following an initial assessment by an NHS 111 call handler, patients will now be offered a face-to-face consultation with a local pharmacist. The service helps alleviate pressure on GP appointments and emergency departments, while harnessing the significant skills and medicines’ knowledge of pharmacists. Pharmacists are also being placed into GP surgeries to relieve appointment logjams and offer patients a more efficient and available service.

The integration of community pharmacy into the overall provision of healthcare is a positive shift, but one that is not without very real fiscal and reputational risk. Pharmacists who sign up to the CPCS will be offering first line medical advice rather than simply dispensing medicines as prescribed by GPs.

This exposes them to greater professional indemnity and liability claims. Equally, pharmacists posted in GP surgeries are vulnerable to making misjudged decisions or failing to refer a patient on for a second opinion. Some pharmacies are providing staff to GP surgeries on a sessional basis and this devolved responsibility comes with its own level of risk exposure. The NHS has introduced a new state indemnity scheme for general practice in England to cover all claims within its scope. It is imperative, however, that pharmacy practitioners taking on new working practices are confident that they have the appropriate level of tailored cover for newly emerging and, as yet, unknown risk.

More responsibility

As community pharmacy takes on more responsibility for the provision of primary healthcare services from GPs and A&E, so the associated pressures and stress levels are being passed on to pharmacy staff. Many pharmacists are experiencing greatly increased workloads, threatening patient safety and acutely raising the stakes in terms of potential claims.   

The opportunities afforded to community pharmacy by the CPCS are significant and a natural extension to the extended commercial services that pharmacies have been offering their patients in recent years. Increasingly, pharmacies have been providing more diverse clinical services such as blood pressure tests, flu vaccinations and even Botox treatment, necessitating private consulting rooms within the premises.

This diversification has seen the need for tailored property cover as well as increased professional indemnity cover. In the same way, the introduction of robotic technology and online prescription services, while relieving resources, pose new risks associated with automated dispensing of medicines. 

As community pharmacy embraces new public and commercial services, the need for comprehensive and ongoing risk assessment and risk management is critical, alongside robust claims management support.  Should a pharmacist face a serious claim, where their reputation or livelihood is at stake, it is imperative that they have access to a comprehensive claims service, including legal advice and crisis management, to mitigate loss and protect reputation.

Community pharmacy is facing an exciting and challenging future in equal measure. Pharmacists and pharmacies have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the accessibility of urgent care to communities across the country. But if they are to stay the course and thrive, they must consider and effectively protect themselves from the emerging risks to their business and their reputation.

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