Volunteers supporting access to medicines for vulnerable people

Joanne Morgan, Director, Community Development and Health Network and Danny Sinclair, PHA, on the important role of volunteers in delivering medication. To view our complete series of COVID-19 blogs, click here.

Delivering medicine

Self-isolation and shielding have led to more people needing their medications delivered to their homes. This puts further strain on pharmacies who are already impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing. It is important that patients, particularly the most vulnerable, can be confident that they will receive their medicines. While some pharmacies routinely provide a delivery service, it is a new development for others.

In its article How to keep your community pharmacy running during the COVID-19 pandemic1, the Pharmaceutical Journal notes additional pressures on pharmacy teams including a significant increase in demand for medicines, coupled with a change in public behaviour — such as panic buying over-the-counter painkillers in response to the lockdown2,3. The Journal discusses some aspects that pharmacists can consider to ensure patient and staff safety while implementing public health guidance and best practice. One such aspect is the delivery of medications.

Volunteering and wellbeing

Feedback from community pharmacies indicated that this was one key area for which they needed support during COVID-19. In Northern Ireland, community and voluntary sector groups shared that they were already providing this support, but in an informal capacity and without approved protocols. In its ‘Take 5’ campaign, the Public Health Agency promotes volunteering as one of five simple steps to help maintain and improve wellbeing4.

Delivering medication is a serious function and places specific responsibilities on volunteers. These include patient confidentiality, adherence to public health guidance and maintaining the safety and security of the medicines. Some medicines have a high street value. Medicine delivery can therefore be at risk of being exploited or targeted.

Quality assurance approach

At the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), it was recognised that the development of protocols to safeguard everyone involved would be a positive and practical step. Given the anticipated scale and duration of COVID-19, a robust scheme would be beneficial to protect the pharmacy, the volunteer, the community or voluntary organisation and, most importantly, the patient.

The Community Development and Health Network (CDHN) have developed the scheme as commissioned by HSCB. It is the only recognised and approved scheme for volunteer delivery of medication in Northern Ireland and already it has received positive recognition from community pharmacy representative bodies and the Pharmacy Regulator.

The scheme recognises that volunteer turnover may be high during COVID-19 – volunteers may need to take a break or self-isolate. The approach is therefore centrally managed so that there can be, as far as possible, a constant flow of support to pharmacies when they need it.

Impact to date

To date, almost 34,000 deliveries of medicines have been made throughout Northern Ireland. 252 pharmacies have registered to be part of the delivery service and 120 community groups have volunteered their time. Early feedback from the scheme has indicated that there is added value in having volunteers deliver medication, like having a chat with people or bringing groceries. These are vital connections for people who might otherwise feel very isolated and lonely.

For more information on how the Community Development & Health Network is supporting its members and the wider community and voluntary sector during COVID-19, visit www.cdhn.org/covid-19.

For more information on the Health and Social Care Board and COVID-19, visit www.hscboard.hscni.net/coronavirus/.

To view our complete series of COVID-19 blogs, click here.


  1. www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/cpd-and-learning/learning-article/how-to-keep-your-community-pharmacy-running-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/20207855.article
  2. Andalo, D. ‘Unprecedented demand’ for OTC painkillers as COVID-19 outbreak spreads. Pharm J online. 2020. doi: 0.1211/PJ.2020.20207830
  3. BBC. Coronavirus: Europe looking to extend virus lockdowns. 2020. Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-51959243 (accessed April 2020)
  4. www.mindingyourhead.info/take-5-steps-wellbeing
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