Pharmacies across the UK are bracing themselves for the impact of a second COVID-19 peak. For the C+D webinar on the long-term effects of COVID-19 at last month's Clinical Pharmacy Congress, I chaired a conversation with four experts in cardiology, mental health, respiratory systems and infectious diseases. The panellists highlighted the severity of the situation in detail, but they also revealed three key ways that pharmacists can prepare to help support patients.
Helping with long-COVID symptoms
The UK COVID-19 Symptom Study has said that one in 10 patients suffer some symptoms for more than three weeks after recovering from initial symptoms. The big question is how community pharmacists can ensure that these patients are managed appropriately.
A crucial theme of the webinar was that consideration needs to be given to the patients who suffered from symptoms but were not hospitalised. Garry McDonald, respiratory pharmacist consultant at University Hospital Crosshouse in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, said pharmacy professionals will see these patients. They may present in the pharmacy with the lagging effects of COVID-19 looking for additional support.
Signposting patients with other conditions
During lockdown, healthcare resources were diverted to deal with the influx of COVID-19 admissions. Patients with symptoms of other conditions did not seek the help they needed.
Tom Cooper, lead cardiology pharmacist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London, highlighted the impact of this change. There was a 35% fall in the number of admissions to hospital because of heart attacks by the end of March this year, compared with the average for 2019, he said.
This reduction in patients seeking healthcare could have severe consequences, with patients experiencing worse outcomes for conditions that required urgent treatment.
As pharmacists, we have an important role in identifying which patients should go to A&E for acute medical conditions. Educating patients on the importance of addressing their pressing health issues early on is vital for improving health outcomes and reducing burden on the NHS. Fear of COVID-19 will have prevented many patients from attending their usual check-ups, appointments or seeking urgent care.
With COVID-19 cases peaking again and hospital admissions rising, healthcare services will be stretched further in the coming months. It’s important that those in need of urgent care can access it.
Another battle that pharmacists are facing is the abundance of misinformation around treatments for COVID-19, with some sources mistakenly claiming that established medicines may worsen the effects of COVID-19, for example inhaled corticosteroids. This is an important time for pharmacists to step in and debunk these myths.
Patients should be reminded that there is no evidence behind these claims and that stopping their medication because of COVID-19 without consulting their GP or pharmacist may increase their risk of exacerbating their disease and increase morbidity.
Patients may be confused about where support is available for long-COVID. Pharmacists may be able to help patients suffering from the long-term effects to get back to a sense of normality by signposting them and helping them handle their symptoms.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the potential for increased demands on pharmacies from patients with long-COVID. However, while pharmacists are on the frontline of the pandemic, this is an opportunity for our profession to again provide patients with advice and reassurance as we continue the fight against virus.
Listen to the highlights from the The Clinical Pharmacy Congress webinar on long COVID in this C+D podcast:
Please note that sound quality may be affected, as this podcast was recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Naimah Callachand is clinical and CPD editor at C+D