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‘COVID-19 pressures lead to my worst day as a pharmacist’

“I’m man enough to admit tears were shed at the end of that day”

Abusive patients, long hours and increased workload due since the COVID-19 outbreak are taking their toll on pharmacy teams. But it won’t last forever, says the Multiple Manager

Stress is a funny thing. Not enough of it, and you get complacent. The right amount and you find a level of focus you didn’t know you were capable of. With too much stress, your body and mind can crumble. Tasks you’ve done a thousand times before become impossible. Your back aches, your legs cramp. You lose your sense of calm.

Over the past few weeks, I’m fairly certain I haven’t been the only pharmacist experiencing higher than normal levels of stress. One look at Twitter and made me aware of just how much strain everyone is under. Pharmacists with more experience than me are at breaking point and there is definitely a feeling of gloom in the profession.

I’ve always counted myself fortunate that my mental health has been unwavering even in times of real crisis. Not last week. My usual happy disposition was replaced by one of anger and impatience. Requests were met with grunts and muttered profanities.

The endless extra hours were taking their toll and the result was a side of me I’m not proud of. My staff are a wonderful team, some of the best workers I’ve ever shared a dispensary with. However, instead of being a positive motivator and keeping up their spirits, I was the one bringing the mood down.

I’m man enough to admit tears were shed at the end of that day. Pressure, abusive patients and a feeling that there was no end in sight to this insanity finally got to me. It led to my worst day as a pharmacist and I was ashamed with how I dealt with it.

But this tale is not a tragedy. Let it stand to those who are yet to face the worst day or who have just experienced it, that it will get better. The obscene levels of prescription requests will ease, patients will stop yelling and inhalers will come back in stock.

They will tell tales in university lectures of the brave pharmacists who – in spite of a lack of funding, staff and personal protective equipment (PPE) – delivered exceptional patient care to the very last cough.

Keep providing the wonderful service that your patients know so well. It can be a thankless job at any time, but there are some lovely people so grateful for what we are doing. Remember their words, not those of the furious man looking for the Seretide inhaler he hasn’t had since 2002 that the GP rightly hasn’t prescribed.

Until the impact of COVID-19 settles down, try and keep calm, take breaks and try to breathe. The first step to looking after your patients is looking after yourself. I am now much more serene than last week. What will be, will be.

One thing is for sure though, if we don’t get Christmas levels of biscuits when all this is over, I will no longer be responsible for my actions.

The Multiple Manager works in a Northern Irish branch of a pharmacy chain

25 Comments

Nancy Young, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

 we had a que that was so big over 3 hours from the start of the lockdown, I decided to go outside with clipboard to take names so the wait wasn't as long. Unfortunately one of the patients we didn't have the prescription yet from surgery, and of course it was our fault so they thought to physically grab me to scream and shout with anger was ok. That was the day which broke me and I was left in tears in front of my team. Thankfully after that incident we were given security the next day. Still doesn't stop you feeling afraid of what might happen next 

Beta Blocker, Primary care pharmacist

If that was me, that person would have ended up in hospital. Disgusting way to behave when you were helping!

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Do them for assault.

Rebecca Field, Community pharmacist

Can completely relate to this thread. You have to have a radar to know when those patients are just playing you up as they are also tired of GP lack of service. This is alien to some, especially the newly qualified who are scared of upsetting the customer.
Fortunately I feel I'm old enough and wise enough to handle the majority of moaners but after a while it affects your morale and you have an empty tank......nothing to motivate your team. And then useless management who have absolutely no idea which way to turn so they just stay away.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Went to pick up a Rx from my surgery's in-house pharmacy yesterday and I have never seen such chaos in my life. Baskets everywhere. massive heaps of prescriptions to do, patients being passed between surgery and pharmacy repeatedly to track down scripts, all of the staff looked totally shellshocked and demoralised. Safety was out of the window and I felt so sorry for them having to work in those conditions. Where I am it's actually easier than it was before because it's in a supermarket and they have laid on extra staff. It's a very odd thing to say and I have been critical of supermarket pharmacy in the past, but they've really stepped things up. I just wish all companies were the same and not still thinking of the bottom line at a time like this.

Greatly Pedantic and Highly Clueless, Senior Management

Just wondering how pharmacists in Italy and France have managed during the Corvid crisis? Countries where pharmacists have a much higher social standing and respect from the public and multiples backed by private equity haven't poisoned the scene. 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Interesting thought! Does anyone here know any European pharmacists? It would be very interesting to find out if a private healthcare system has made things easier. I should imagine it has.

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

"the furious man looking for the Seretide inhaler he hasn’t had since 2002 that the GP rightly hasn’t prescribed."

One of the problems of the job is that we're all too conditioned to be nice, so a more suitable approach to idiots like that would be on the lines of "you're not getting one from us and you can f**king argue it out with the doctor yourself if you don't like it" rather than internalise the stress, but it needs a level of nerve that's alien to most pharmacists

 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Most pharmacists seem to be cowards for some reason and this makes me feel totally out of place alongside my colleagues. Also surprising for patients when they find you assert yourself when necessary. Cowardice was probably fine years ago but not so suitable in this new era. 

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

In the old days, losing an abusive patient here and there would have no impact on bottom line. These days every penny counts thanks to a horrible contract and soceital changes.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Never forget the power of reviews.One or two rank reviews can ruin a business nowadays.

C A, Community pharmacist

I'm not sure even Christmas levels of Biccy's are enough to keep me going

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Stronger people than me will be broken by pharmacy. I know I have been which is why, once the covid stuff is out of the way, I shall be waving bye-bye to the pharmacy profession. A decent house/car/holidays etc doesn't bring you any happiness when you have the levels of suffering we have to go through to keep them. I honestly never thought I would ever have mental health issues, but pharmacy is the destroyer of minds.

Brian Plainer, Locum pharmacist

Just mind your head from the stampede

Chemical Mistry, Information Technology

Good Luck, you will not be the only one , there will be many pharmacists suffering with poor mental health and PTSD for years as results of Covid 19 and you will not be the only one leaving, thinking many pharmacist wil revaluating how they have been treated by NHS England,Employers and the general Public in general and making similar decisions in case of further Lock downs in the future months especially say in the winter months when germs are rife , imaging someone sneezing who maybe asymptomatic covid !!!!

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

We also have the asymptomatic hayfever season as well. We might as well accept that this bloody virus is not going away, we are all going to get exposed to it sooner or later until herd immunity is built up which is a long way off or the vaccine proves effective which seems to be doubtful at the moment seeing as they aren't even sure if having the infection gives you immunity, so if that's the case a vaccine will be pretty much useless. All we need now is to find that Covid-19 is making apes intelligent and you might have the makings of a decent film series........

O J, Community pharmacist

Pharmacist get treated like a Rat in sewrage. Stand up for your self.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Trouble is, one person alone cannot make any difference. What it needs is for ALL pharmacists to pull together and refuse to work for just a few days, but I know this will never happen because I've been in this profession for long enough (29 years, 10 months and 1 day (minus 2 hours and 11 minutes) to know that pharmacists have never pulled together and never will. We are by  nature loners because we rarely work with other pharmacists and therefore never get the chance to plot. Our representative/governing bodies are weak and in thrall to the multiples so will never take our side and so there is precisely no point in standing up for myself, other than to lose what employment I have now until the virus mess is over, employers are taking on again and I can get another job which maybe, just maybe, I'll want to get out of bed for. Oh, and rats are quite happy in sewerage. It's warm and there's plenty to eat, so even that analogy was wrong. We get treated rather more like a dose of threadworms or a verruca.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I stood up for myself in a regular locum position of 13 years, by asking for some extra support staff. I went off sick for a few weeks and have never been asked to go back to that store in the last 12 months, since my return.
I think you get moved into the columns marked : uncooperative, problem, trouble maker, mentally unstable, unreliable, etc, etc! And thereafter you get less work and your regular days disappear and your constant requests to return to previous stores worked at for over a decade and a half are just ignored.
Beware of standing up for yourself.
They don't like it !
My regular work pattern has been ruined.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

If you don't mind me asking, how old are you, Angela? I've a feeling you're the same sort of generation as me but I've decided I have to get out now for my own sake. It's never too late because I've realised that we have an abolute wealth of characteristics and skills that can be taken into other careers.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Just arriving to the 50something world!
I'm thinking of trying to stick it out one or two days a week until 2030 while the ISA and sipp grow.
Unfortunately, as a carer, I'm limited in retraining in anything else right now.
I love the sound of the world that our Senior industry friend on here has! I would have liked to have done that 25 yrs ago, but as he said, it's so hard to get into.
Just out of interest, even though I have only ever been a locum for the company I am having trouble with, do I have any legal standing on anything as I have generally worked 2 or 3 days a week for them since 2004. Then due to lack of staff precipitating time off due to stress/depression, obviously with no sick pay and loss of earnings, that they caused! Then as I have described, after a promise of return to my 3 regular days, I have been lucky to get one a week, and this has been going on for a year now.
But as I have nothing in writing I suppose there is nothing that say, the PDA could do for me? Just wondering if anyone has any experience or knowledge of these types of situations.
I don't want to fall out with them or take them to a tribunal, I just want my regular work back !! Not just some token odd days. Or maybe I should just be patient and wait for a few oldies to retire and the 3 newly qualified to bugger off to hospital and PCNs, maybe then I'll be welcomed back, as obviously they save an agency fee using me. Any thoughts or ideas welcomed!

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Be careful regarding your self-employed status - if you only ever work for one company, HMRC may say that you are employed by them rather than self employed presumably with the same rights (i.e. none) as a zero hours contract.

At least your ISA is growing - mine had to go on my last car, which now has nearly 100,000 on the clock (much like me) and I have no idea where the money is going to come from to replace it. Private pension is also rapidly going down the toilet. I'm reaching that golden age though where very soon I can begin to take out of it and seeing as how it's actually losing money at the mo, I feel like I might just as well enjoy it now rather than try to survive on the pittance it will pay me later.

Oh' and don't believe anyone who says 50 is the new 40. It isn't. 50 is still 50. Sorry. (as you probably guess, I'm a bitter and twisted 50-something!)

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I work for other companies too, so hopefully should be ok.
Happy to join the 50something club !!

C A, Community pharmacist

Good luck with your future endeavours Lucky!

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Cheers mate! To be truthful, the thought of getting out is the only thing really keeping me going at the moment. I actually, genuinely, LOATHE pharmacy. I've realised my post makes me sound like I'm a quivering wreck dissolving in bubbles and tears like a Squonk (look it up - it was my fave monster when I was a kid!) when actually it's anger that I'm full of and I don't like what pharmacy has turned me into.

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