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'Exhausted pharmacists may end up getting the respect they deserve'

Pharmacists are war-weary from handling the impact of COVID-19 but their efforts may finally earn them recognition, says Laura Buckley

It is safe to say we’re sailing in unchartered waters with the COVID-19 pandemic. What with staff shortages, pharmacy closures and funding cuts, community pharmacy is not in the best place it could be to provide the medicines to the poorly and the self-isolating. Some might say the sector is ‘up the creek without a paddle’.

As a primary care network (PCN) pharmacist who has also been working in a community pharmacy, I’ve seen the effect of the current crisis from two different angles. From community pharmacies inundated with excessive over-the-counter medicine requests, to GP practices triaging patients before permitting entry to their waiting rooms, the healthcare world is making unprecedented changes.

In the early days of the pandemic, our sector was feeling ready to rise to the challenge, despite awareness of our lack of resources and a distinct feeling that we were already functioning at capacity. We were ready to face our patients head on and put their need for medicines and health advice above any fears we might have had about COVID-19.

But now, we feel war-weary. We’re exhausted, working long hours that won’t be reimbursed. Despite teetering on the edge of emotional outbursts, we continue to soldier on in the wake of the most significant healthcare crisis in recent years.

In my job as a PCN pharmacist, I’m seeing extraordinary volumes of work. Patients are requesting several months of prescriptions, medicines for asthma they haven’t had since 1993, and panic-ordering things they don’t need. Our workload is building.

The staff morale isn’t the best it has been and we are all feeling the strain of not managing to overcome the growing mountain of tasks on our screens. Daily abuse from patients on the phones and at the GP reception desk is wearing us thin and yet we continue to remain professional in the face of adversity. Things are far from plain sailing. The demands on our healthcare teams are changing daily.

The disappointing lack of direct mention of pharmacy in the government definition of “key workers” and a lack of address by the Prime Minister [until March 29] were disheartening –blows that demonstrated a historical lack of recognition for our sector. The General Pharmaceutical Council is reappointing pharmacists to the register who left the register within the last three years – it is an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep us sailing.

I’m truly amazed by my colleagues across the UK. Seeing the hard work that each pharmacy team is putting into their patients is truly heart-warming. Teams are going above and beyond: they’re volunteering where they ought to be paid; working in new places; doing new tasks; and learning new skills to face up to the impact of the virus.

A largely unrecognised sector is keeping healthcare in the community going and I am proud to be a pharmacist on the frontline. In a few months’ time, when things have settled, perhaps the world will look at pharmacy with the respect we so rightly deserve.

Laura Buckley is a locum pharmacist based in Hull

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Pharmacy Dispenser/ Technician
Bethnal Green North, London
Salary: Up to £30,000

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