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‘Pharmacists are reconsidering their careers after DH mistreatment’

The government’s initial exclusion of pharmacy teams from its COVID-19 death in service payment scheme was the icing on top of a distasteful cake, says Laura Buckley

There’s nothing like a kick in the teeth to make you question your career choices. Community pharmacy has had quite the year and I know lots of pharmacy colleagues who, after recent developments, are reconsidering their options.

And who wouldn’t, given the recent announcement that community pharmacy teams might not be eligible to receive £60,000 life assurance payout, should they die after contracting COVID-19 while working on the frontline of the pandemic?

Worse still is that colleagues in other healthcare sectors – even those with less contact with patients – were eligible at the time the scheme was announced. In a fumble to make up for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH)’s oversight, health secretary Matt Hancock subsequently said that pharmacists are now covered by this scheme, but left the eligibility of their teams hanging.

And that’s just the icing on the top of a very distasteful cake. In another bid to minimise the impact of COVID-19, NHS England announced that pharmacies would be delivering medicines to ‘shielding’ patients. This left us stuck in a mire, worrying about the impact of using volunteers to deliver medicines.

Community pharmacists are struggling with the workload. Once again, delivery processes that seemed appropriate from those sat in an office just aren’t cut out to work effectively in community pharmacies. It almost seems a ruse to pacify contractors, as the reality of accessing funding for deliveries seems to be far-fetched.

Not only are my colleagues in community pharmacies dealing with negativity from the country’s leaders, they are also suffering the loss of much-loved colleagues to COVID-19 and abuse from those in society who lack respect and compassion. If pharmacy needs anything right now, it’s support, care, understanding and a whole lot of funding.

It seems to me that the government is very good at taking what it needs from community pharmacies, and especially talented at giving back exactly nothing in return.

But when COVID-19 reared its head, our community pharmacies didn’t shy away from their responsibilities. Despite the government’s apparent ignorance of the role of pharmacy staff as key workers and its refusal to initially acknowledge us, we continued to chip away at the mountainous workload growing before our eyes.

Though we don’t expect benefits for our frontline work, there have been cases of refusing to admit pharmacy colleagues into supermarkets during NHS worker reserved hours, as they “aren’t doctors and nurses”. This adds insult to injury. How can we expect the public to understand the vital role we play, when the government appears to lack insight, too?

Government action regarding community pharmacy teams feels like a great afterthought. A continuous pattern of being overlooked in the first instance has a sector of hard-working, genuinely caring people considering whether their efforts are worth the disregard the government and the country gives them.

What the government and the public really need to understand is that without the support of pharmacy staff, healthcare in the UK would be sorely lacking and many patients would suffer.

Pharmacy teams are essential to healthcare in this country and we don’t sit on the substitution bench for our colleagues in other sectors. First-line, frontline and always pharmacy. Respect what we do or risk losing us as we down tools in disgust.

Laura Buckley is a locum pharmacist based in Hull


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