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‘Remote supervision in pharmacies is a recipe for disaster’

Removing pharmacists from dispensaries to supervise remotely feels like a recipe for patient safety disasters, says Laura Buckley

Community pharmacy prides itself on having healthcare professionals available on demand for the general public. During a time where pressure on the healthcare system is increasing, having a pharmacist on hand to provide advice holds immeasurable value.

So why is it that we find ourselves once again debating whether remote supervision of a pharmacy is appropriate? Pinching pharmacists from their dispensaries to supervise from afar feels like a recipe for disaster.

As a community pharmacist, I lost count of the number of times I was required to intervene or support my colleagues in advising patients. There were times I was needed to acutely manage patients while we waited for an ambulance, and many times where my knowledge as a pharmacist meant that only I could solve this problem or that query.

My patients asked for me by name, and, though my colleagues were fantastic, there were lots of aspects to my role that required knowledge gained through pharmacist training.

A pharmacy without a pharmacist might as well not be a pharmacy at all. To those of us who see the value of pharmacists in the community, it feels like a money-saving exercise at the cost of patient safety and wellbeing.

Pharmacists aren’t trained to hide from patients and give instruction from a distance. We work in a profession that is designed for integration at the heart of the community. We know our patients well and we use our instincts to guide effective practice and provide patient care.

Aside from access to specialist advice from a pharmacist, safety is a key issue in the pharmacist’s absence. Pharmacists are trained to seek out and identify risk. While our colleagues are well trained, the lack of a pharmacist’s presence in an environment where opportunities for errors are rife is worrying.

Reducing the number of pharmacists and squeezing their skills out to remotely supervise multiple pharmacies feels less like progression for pharmacy and more like a means of making money go further.

I think you would be hard-pressed to acquire majority support from the sector in favour of this. I’m fairly sure that most pharmacists value their interaction with patients as a key aspect of their role. If contractors are concerned about the future of pharmacy for patients, they should be seeking counsel for their funding, not claim remote supervision as the solution.

Patients should be central to all and every future plan for the community pharmacy sector. Remote supervision is not a way of working in which I see patient-centred care. It almost feels like the punchline of a bad joke when pharmacists feel the need to justify their presence in their own pharmacies.

It would truly be a sad day for pharmacy if remote supervision became a reality and I lament the necessity to even discuss this topic. It is 2020 and pharmacists have just battled their way through a pandemic and shown every ounce of their worth. Tell me again why remote supervision should even be considered a possibility?

Perhaps we should be spending more time discussing our pay rise, or the distinct absence of it, in the newly-announced wage rises by the government for public sector workers including doctors. Again, pharmacy has been abandoned and left to question whether we count anymore. 

Laura Buckley is a locum and primary care network pharmacist based in Hull

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