The NHS is under immense strain due to the current pandemic Covid-19 outbreak. However it is important to highlight that without medicines, even the best physicians and nurses would be unable to do their jobs to the standard which they are currently able to. Up and down the country, Pharmacists are working tirelessly to serve patients in hospitals and community, at great risk to themselves as well.
In the last week alone, the workload for pharmacies has increased massively with a spike in demand for medicines as patients are ordering their repeat prescriptions in advance due to fear of being unable to obtain their medicines in the event of self-isolation, social distancing and probable total lockdown from the government. When people think of the NHS, they often forget about the vital work pharmacists do. Perhaps more importantly, pharmacists are literally on the front line of this crisis. Most, if not all GP surgeries have closed for face-to-face consultations and patients are being told to avoid visits to hospital, and try not to call NHS 111 and use NHS 111 online instead.
Pharmacies are fielding calls from patients, dispensing medicines, delivering medicines, advising patients, selling medicines and so much more – with almost no protection for themselves. With little support from pharmacy bodies, or the government, pharmacy teams have already reached a point of exhaustion. If this level of service is expected to continue, then pharmacists and their teams will need more support immediately from both the government, and other bodies. In the space of a week, pharmacy teams have done the work usually expected in two weeks in a matter of days, with some working outside their core hours to fulfil the increased demand in their own time voluntarily. This not only endangers patients, but puts teams at risk of experiencing burn-out which in turn renders them less able to tackle the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis, should they contract it.
There are three things that can be done to help and support pharmacy teams:
1. Recognising the life saving and money saving work they do – referring to pharmacists as ‘medicines distributors’ (as in the list of key workers from the government) is nothing short of disrespectful.
2. Providing personal protection equipment and funding to allow pharmacies to install shielding screens.
3. Funding is required for the increased demand of prescription deliveries which pharmacies are not being paid for this service by the NHS currently. Especially since the most vulnerable and high-risk patients are being told to isolate at their homes for upto 12 weeks, the delivery service is essential right now and funding and support are needed with immediate effect.
The UK government and pharmacy bodies need to consider the impact of no support for pharmacies. If pharmacies close due to lack of support and staff falling sick due to Covid-19, patients will not have access to their essential medicines. This is turn will mean more stress on (closed) GP surgeries and therefore more stress on hospitals. We cannot allow this to happen.
One of the most vital elements in overcoming a pandemic such as Covid-19, is to ensure a robust healthcare system. We know the NHS is in crisis, and soon hospitals will be full to capacity with Covid-19 patients, this is when people will turn to pharmacists for help and advice, if they haven’t already. But without extra support, pharmacists and their teams will not be there to do their job, and it will fall on hospitals to pick up the work on an already stretched capacity. This is unacceptable.
Pharmacies need more support for their own staff, and financial support to protect against Covid-19 right now. The government needs to recognise the role pharmacists play in the wider healthcare system and the impact pharmacy teams have in stopping hospital admissions. Together, with the right support, we can beat the current pandemic crisis. The time for talk is over and the time to act is right now.