Going above and beyond to support customers and patients is second nature to pharmacy teams and, despite multiple demands put on their time, workload and personal health during the Covid-19 pandemic, they’re keeping calm, soldiering on and making sure the job is done to the highest possible level. And that’s before you consider all the extra activities they’re arranging during these challenging times to ensure their customers and patients have everything they need to stay well, especially if they are self-isolating or shielding.
Working under intense pressure is hardly a new occurrence for any community pharmacy staff member, but Farah Ali, general manager at Warman-Freed Pharmacy in Golders Green, north London, highlights that this is unlike anything previously experienced. “Many of the team have never been through a time in pharmacy where such a seismic change has happened and impacted on the workload and increased demand in such a big way,” she says. “With Covid-19, certain changes have made our roles even harder to perform in the same way and so we have had to find new ways of doing things. It is an intense and stressful time, but the resilience, care and genuine support shown by my team makes me so proud.”
That word resilience comes up a lot when speaking to community pharmacists and their teams about the Covid-19 pandemic and how they are managing. Nicola Goodberry, superintendent pharmacist at Weldrick’s, says that “prescription volume getting very high unexpectedly and very rapidly”, coupled with “team members being in isolation” has proved particularly challenging, but “as always, the Weldrick’s teams have shown amazing resilience and passion and kept going.”
Mike Holden, associate director at Pharmacy Complete, has spent some time working at his local community pharmacy during the Covid-19 pandemic. He is “hugely impressed” by the team and “their ability to adapt and innovate” while dealing with a significantly higher demand for self care advice and in prescription volume, which he predicts is around a three-fold increase on the normal level. He says: “Bricks and mortar community pharmacy is truly at the heart of the community and making a difference to the health and wellbeing of people. A-MA-ZING!”
Teamwork within the pharmacy is as crucial as ever to manage workflow, refine processes, improve efficiencies and maintain safety for all. But working as a community can prove equally as vital.
Ade Williams, lead pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, has taken this to an impressive level by setting up a community partnership with national running group This Mum Runs. After lockdown restrictions prevented the running group from putting on its usual meets, they arranged for their members to provide a medicines delivery service from Bedminster Pharmacy. Not only do their efforts lighten the load of the busy delivery drivers, it also means there’s a reduced footfall in the pharmacy, so fewer people are putting themselves at risk of exposure to the virus.
Everyone’s heard the proverb “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. And Scottish independent pharmacy group Right Medicine Pharmacy (RMP) proved this, along with the value of teamwork and communication, when dealing with a repeat prescription for a 90-year-old patient. A problem with the wholesaler delivery, followed by an unsuccessful attempt to source the product at another pharmacy in the group, as well as being time-poor, would have made some people give up. But perseverance and a call to another local independent pharmacy came up trumps. The team arranged to pick up the medication and deliver it directly to the patient, taking a weight off the patient’s mind and ensuring they could enjoy a few more days pain-free.
Attention to detail goes a long way in pharmacy, from the obvious dispensing of medicines to offering the right advice. But during this pandemic, and despite immense time pressures, pharmacy teams are upping the ante even more. Take Bedminster Pharmacy and its sister branch Kellaway Pharmacy, for example. Team leaders Beata Mularska and Eva Peng (pictured opposite) put their language skills to good use and translated Covid-19 posters into Polish and Mandarin. They can now ensure even more members of their community receive the right information from a trusted source.
Nicola has been impressed by the efforts of the Weldrick’s Cantley Goodison Boulevard branch in Doncaster, which “went to additional lengths and made up some care packs to be delivered to the community with prescriptions, which I thought was just amazing”. These care packs – labelled with “Stay Safe, Love Weldrick’s Cantley Goodison <3” – are a small gesture, but they reassure self-isolating and shielding patients that their community pharmacy is there for them.
The nation has turned its attention to tech more than ever before in light of the Covid-19 pandemic to keep in touch with people, stay entertained and, where possible, order essentials online.
Pharmacies have embraced technology too. An RMP branch is offering video call consultations to worried patients unable to visit the pharmacy due to self-isolation. And Warman-Freed is sending card payment machines with delivery drivers so patients can use contactless cards to pay for their prescriptions where needed – a quick, easy and hygienic solution.
Larger scale technology is also coming in very handy, as one RMP branch has found. “Our prescription collection vending machine at our Winchburgh Pharmacy has been an utter godsend during this tough time. We have been able to liaise by telephone, app or any means possible to get medication and essential items to patients 24/7 by use of the robot,” says Richard Stephenson, RMP chief operating officer. For their community, it’s a vital service with the ability to reduce the risk to the team in branch and help so many other people, whether it’s individuals self-isolating and shielding or key workers unable to get to the pharmacy during opening hours.
With so much focus on the job in hand, it can be easy to overlook the incredible team effort that goes into dispensing medicines throughout the whole supply chain. Richard says: “Pharmacy is a tough place just now, not only for the people stood in the pharmacies serving patients, but also the people like me working behind the scenes to keep things running to ensure our teams are safe and have the right kit to be safe. But also the wholesalers who are equally working flat out to keep meds coming out and in good time – not an easy task at all.”
In early April, Alliance Healthcare was asked by the NHS to support community pharmacy in Scotland. Within two days, it had distributed personal protective equipment (PPE) on the NHS’ behalf to 1,258 pharmacies. The company is now working to distribute PPE to pharmacies throughout England as it becomes available, as well as ensuring its Alphega Pharmacy members are supplied with sneeze screens.
Alliance Healthcare has created a video (see below) to thank all the “silent heroes” within its business – those behind the scenes who are crucial in dealing with the surge in healthcare products being distributed across the UK. A spokesperson for the company said: “For over 80 years, we have been supporting community pharmacy, and that relationship is now more important than ever before. The role of the community pharmacy is key at this moment in time and we would like to thank all of the pharmacists and their staff for their tireless efforts.”