Pharmacists have warned the lack of a standard contract to pay them for taking on extra work during the flu pandemic could hinder the national response to the outbreak. Payments for community pharmacists are being determined through 86 separate local negotiations.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee normally represents community pharmacists in contract negotiations with the NHS.

Head of pharmacy practice Barbara Parsons said: “This is a regrettable situation which needs addressing so pharmacists can plan ahead for the winter.”

Antivirals to treat pandemic flu are being distributed at designated collection points free of the usual £7.20 NHS prescription charge. This means there is no automatic way for pharmacists to recoup their dispensing costs, so it needs to be negotiated between primary care trusts and England’s 86 local pharmacy committees.

NHS Isle of Wight community pharmacy lead Kevin Noble said the PCT had agreed to pay its pharmacists £3 for each item of antiviral dispensed.

That compared with £1-£1.50 under the standard NHS dispensing contract, but Mr Nobel said the extra workload required was “quite time consuming”.

Pharmacists need to validate each patient’s unique reference number through the national pandemic website, but that system is not linked to individual PCT stock monitoring systems, so pharmacists also need to log each dose dispensed with their local PCT. They also need to record each patient’s medication.

Last week hsj.co.uk revealed supermarket chain Sainsbury’s will not allow any of its 230 in-store pharmacies to act as antiviral collection points. Although national guidance states that “flu friends” rather than sick patients should collect anti-virals, a spokesman for Sainsbury’s said the chain did not want to “draw a lot of potentially unwell people into [its] stores”.