At the start of the Covid19 pandemic, there was endless press coverage about the army of volunteers who were stepping up to help the NHS. The idea was that they would carry out routine tasks, freeing up doctors, nurses and other health professionals to deal with patients. However, as restrictions begin to ease, all indications are that in pharmacies, volunteers have not been having the impact initially hoped for.


5% Of Volunteer Tasks

According to figures issued by NHS England, pharmacies only accounted for 5% of the tasks by volunteers across the NHS. This is despite collecting and delivering prescriptions being one of the main tasks advertised as requiring volunteer support. The official figures revealed that during April, 111,000 tasks were being carried out every day by volunteers. NHS volunteers carry out a wide range of tasks from driving patients to routine appointments to moving stock between hospitals or delivering PPE to care homes. NHS England highlighted a range of issues which could perhaps explain the very low uptake of volunteer help within the pharmacy sector.


Professional Indemnity

Perhaps the biggest issue facing community pharmacies is professional indemnity. Pharmacists as individuals and as businesses have professional insurance to guard against the risk of making a mistake when issuing a prescription. This is rare, but the pharmacy insurance body said indemnity cover would only apply when a volunteer had a full DHS certificate. The professional body also raised concerns about controlled drugs being handled by untrained volunteers.

When the government announced an appeal for volunteers, the DBS at the same time changed the way it operates. In response to the pandemic, the DBS offered the option for a quick Adult First check to applicants for the NHS. This is a preliminary search against Barring Lists, after which the applicant can start right away. The full DBS certificate will also be fast-tracked and processed in due course but may take some weeks to arrive. If pharmacies are demanding the full certificate before a volunteer can start, it’s easy to see why such a small proportion of volunteers are helping with prescriptions and medication. To add to the confusion, the NHS stated early on the pandemic that they would not be issuing volunteers delivering medication from community pharmacies.


Other Tasks

It’s not just delivery work that has been supported by volunteers during the Covid19 pandemic. Volunteers were active in hospital fundraising, coffee bars and pushing tea trolleys before the pandemic, and have continued to do so. Other people have been making masks, sewing scrubs for staff, or volunteering on helplines across a range of charity sectors. Whether or not a volunteer needs a Disclosure check will depend on the type of role. There are no different roles for volunteers, so the decision about whether someone needs a DBS check is the same as for paid members of staff. Volunteers working in a charity shop or as a fundraiser won’t need a DBS check, but someone volunteering to support a vulnerable individual probably would.