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COVID-19: Why I would return to a pharmacy as a 'medicine distributer'

Despite the insult of being called a “distributer of medicine”, C+D clinical editor Naimah Callachand says she will overcome her concerns to return to work in a pharmacy

Pharmacy professionals woke up this morning to the news that pharmacists and their teams were not explicitly named on the Department of Education list of “critical” workers battling against the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, we have been titled “distributers of medicines”.

Many of us will feel anger and frustration at this phrasing, with “doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers” being named directly on the list, but not pharmacists. I completely empathise with the anger that everyone in the pharmacy community is feeling. It is demeaning that after years of study and hard work to get to where we are that we would be deemed merely “distributors of medicine”.

This harks back to the old debate on whether pharmacists are seen as mere ‘shopkeepers’. Pharmacists are key in ensuring the continued safe dispensing of medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are handling medicine shortages, stockpiling problems and counselling worried patients who are hurrying into pharmacies at an alarming rate. I’m not sure “distributor of medicines” gives the position the respect it deserves.

But it is important for us to maintain our professional integrity during these challenging times. Now more than ever, the true value of the pharmacy team and how dependent the public is upon us is abundantly clear. We have all heard the stories of teams working tirelessly on the frontline of COVID-19, dealing with panicked patients and stock shortages, not to mention the risk they expose themselves to in keeping their doors open to face-to-face contact with the public.

As a profession, we should be proud of the fundamental work we are doing in this time of crisis. I couldn’t be more in awe of my pharmacist colleagues. This is a challenging and uncertain time for all of us, and although we cannot see an end to what seems like a surreal nightmare, it’s important to remain positive and do everything in our power to help prevent the spread the virus and protect our elderly or vulnerable patients.

Yesterday the NHS called upon former pharmacy professionals to re-register so they can help in tackling the greatest global health threat in the history of the health service. Having not worked in a community pharmacy as a pharmacist for a few years now, if I’m truthful, I must admit this does fill me with certain apprehension. What if I’m not competent? What if I’ve forgotten everything and can’t even use the computer? How would I handle the pressure from the impact of COVID-19?

But at this trying time, I’ve never been prouder to have qualified as a pharmacist. If necessary, I will gladly overcome my worries to throw myself headfirst back into practice to ease some of the burden on my colleagues. The nation needs us. I urge all those who are able to help where they can. This is why we trained – to ensure the health and wellbeing of the public. That is more important than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the public being advised by the NHS to stay away from GP surgeries, community pharmacy is seeing an escalation in footfall, with some businesses now on their knees due to increasing levels of staff sickness. This is a worrying time for all pharmacies, some of which may be forced to close.

Who knows what the next few weeks will bring for community pharmacy? But I ask you all to stand by your pharmacy team and colleagues, present a united front and look after each other.

Tweet Naimah Callachand @CandDNaimah

Due to COVID-19, workers across UK pharmacy are under great pressure right now. If you would like to find out how you can help, take a look at current vacancies in and around your location. All levels of pharmacy professionals are needed.

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Pharmacy Dispenser/ Technician
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