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GP pharmacist: I hope community pharmacy is more proactive in future

Community pharmacy was behind GP surgeries in reacting to COVID-19, says the GP Pharmacist

My practice’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic happened quickly and early. The attempts to reduce footfall began around March 12. By the time official lockdown was announced, we had been limiting initial appointments to telephone-only for nearly two weeks.

My memories of those early weeks are a blur of trying to rein in excessive over-ordering, juggling inhaler shortages, and managing bizarre requests courtesy of viral social media posts – such as those for COVID-19 “rescue packs” of steroids and antibiotics . After those chaotic initial weeks, policies were put in place to reduce the number of staff in work at any one time.

For me, this meant homeworking for the first time. I was apprehensive about this, having been used to dynamic workplaces with plenty of colleagues around to bounce ideas off and discuss concerns.

I did worry that my motivation levels would drop somewhat. However, the technology worked well, which meant that I could access all the practice systems. This enabled me to deal with medication queries, update clinical posts and continue medication reviews – albeit by telephone.

I relished the new approach to meetings. We have far too many in primary care and they are often a protracted process played out in airless, artificially lit grey rooms. The use of virtual platforms has meant that these are now much more purposeful, do not require travelling, and are generally much more efficiently expedited.

I also took the opportunity to encourage doctors to embrace electronic repeat dispensing. While this was a steep learning curve for all – and not without a few problems – it is now an established option for patients. Something I had been slowly pushing for years was accomplished in months.

We are now in a restorative phase. Although footfall in the building is increasing again, it is obvious that there will be a continued use of technology to increase virtual contacts and replace much of the old face-to-face work, especially for routine reviews.

I’ll be honest though, I think GP pharmacists had a much easier time during the pandemic than our community pharmacy colleagues.

In the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, the unprecedented stress they were under was obvious from the ever-increasing queues for local pharmacies. The danger of a pharmacy closing under the pressure was very real.

It continues to offend me that many community colleagues maintain we “closed our doors” to patients. We didn’t, but everything went through a phone call triage first. However, it is true that GP practices were far better placed to protect themselves in the initial stages.

Community pharmacies seemed about two weeks behind GP surgeries in responding to the challenges. I visited one pharmacy about 10 days after we had implemented access restrictions and was shocked to see that there had been no attempt to impose social distancing for patients or staff. When I asked a member of staff about this, they said they hadn’t had any direction from above.

I just hope that community pharmacy is more proactive in coming out of this than they were going in – ensuring appropriate recognition for the critical role they played in supporting patients and the NHS.

The GP Pharmacist is a former community pharmacist working in a general practice

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