The pharmacy regulator is investigating a complaint about closures which are said to have left patients with reduced access to palliative care.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran agreed to shut a number of pharmacies on Saturdays throughout July and August to allow firms experiencing Covid staff shortages to redeploy employees to the weekday operation.

They included a branch in Ayrshire run by Lloyds which provides drugs for end-of-life care.

The company operates two pharmacies in Maybole, with palliative care drugs provided at 71 High Street, the pharmacy which was closed.

This is said to have led to a patient being unable to collect a prescription and suffering "withdrawal symptoms".

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) confirmed it had received a "concern" about Lloyds adding: "We cannot comment at this stage as it is being dealt with in accordance with our established procedures."

Freedom of Information enquiries obtained by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and others show that there have been thousands of temporary closures all over Scotland this year.

READ MORE: Why Scots GP's concern over cancer care should concern us all 

Locum pharmacists say there are no shortages of staff willing to work and say firms are cancelling contracts at agreed rates of pay.

A source said: "Inexplicably the health board agreed [to the closure] and left the area without palliative care on Saturdays. 

"There has already been an incident in the area reported to the GPhC  Ayrshire and Arran Health Board and local MSPs, where a patient wasn't able to collect their powerful pain-killing medication and suffered withdrawal symptoms.

"The owners claimed there was a shortage of pharmacists, but there is not, and some have been making pharmacists redundant.

"Now they claim that locums are asking for higher rates and holding them to ransom, yet they are cancelling locum contracts at agreed lower rates in order to close."

The pharmacy is said to have returned to normal opening hours on August 27.

The PDA has called for an end to businesses being paid ‘non-activity’ payments when they close, payments which amount to £300-400 or more per day.

READ MORE: Scotland records 40 Covid deaths in latest update 

It would also like to see the regulation of pharmacies in Scotland transferred to the  Care Inspectorate.

A spokesman for the PDA said: "Many of our members are very concerned about the conditions they must work in, whether that be sub-standard premises, or being forced to follow what we would regard as dangerous practices due to short staffing, poor computer systems, long hours, lack of support and trained staff and so on. 

"Our members tell us that they are unhappy about the apparent ‘toothlessness’ of the regulator and and that is why the PDA has made the call to transfer regulation of pharmacies (not pharmacists) from the GPhC to a another body which can take more robust action against recalcitrant pharmacy owners."

A spokeswoman for Lloyd Pharmacy said the Maybole branch was "operating normally and patients can access medicines and pharmacy services as usual."

A spokeswoman for NHS Ayrshire and Arran added: "In considering applications for closure, the working group took cognisance of the overall pharmacy provision in the local areas to ensure that patients continued to have adequate access to a wide range of pharmaceutical services. 

"Due to the significant planning and minimal closures involved, these temporary arrangements alone should not have had any significant impact on the public accessing community pharmacy services in their area. 

"The Lloyds referred to is a Palliative Care Network Pharmacy and is one of 40 network pharmacies in Ayrshire and Arran.  

"Whilst is was closed on a Saturday between 9 July and 20 August, Palliative Care Network Pharmacies in Girvan and Ayr were open during this time.  

"It should also be noted that non-network community pharmacies in Ayrshire and Arran are encouraged to hold stock of the most commonly prescribed palliative care medicines."