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Here’s what the public thinks of pharmacy’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic

Pharmacies in England have been praised for their accessibility during the pandemic, but there are calls from the general public for better promotion of what pharmacists and staff can do.

Members of the public have “generally felt satisfied” with the service they receive from pharmacies across England before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to independent statutory body Healthwatch.

In a recent report – which gathered responses from 6,745 people surveyed between April 2020 and July 2021 – pharmacies were praised for “stepping up their game” during the pandemic and “being open while other services were difficult or impossible to access”.

People particularly liked being able to collect or order repeat prescriptions in person, with many pharmacies offering specific time slots for prescription collection, according to Healthwatch.

Medication deliveries were also noted as “crucial” for people self-isolating or shielding.

An investigation of Manchester’s Chinese, Deaf and south Asian communities found that pharmacies were the most used service during the pandemic, “providing an essential service for those who find it hardest to be heard”.

As a result, Healthwatch Manchester recommended that: “The role of pharmacy as a key point of contact and service uptake should be acknowledged and resourced as a provider and outlet of accessible information to disadvantaged communities.”

 

Areas of improvement

 

Despite overall satisfaction with pharmacy services during the pandemic, members of the public flagged certain “areas of improvement”.

This included the availability of medication, with “many” people flagging missing or incomplete prescriptions, resulting in multiple trips to the pharmacy, and a lack of coordination between pharmacies and GP surgeries.

“Social distancing and infection control measures were not always in place or followed, leaving people feeling anxious and stressed about going to the pharmacy,” Healthwatch reported.

It flagged experiences of inadequate mask- and glove-wearing and unclean surfaces in some pharmacies.

 

Better promotion needed

 

One aspect highlighted for improvement was greater promotion of what pharmacies offer and what pharmacists and pharmacy staff can do, according to the Healthwatch report.

“The main reason people use pharmacies is to get their medication. But not everyone understands the full range of services and support [they] offer,” Healthwatch wrote.

This in turn was causing people to not seek the services of a pharmacist, it said.

People were “often being told to see their GP anyway, creating the sense that there was little point going to your pharmacist first”, according to the report.

Meanwhile, others flagged that pharmacists “seemed too busy to talk” and they were “not always clear on the roles, qualifications and expertise of pharmacy staff”.

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