The word “unprecedented” has been synonymous with COVID-19 since the early months of this year. As a healthcare reporter, I’ve usually found solace in the knowledge that for every illness, there is medical expertise and research. But COVID-19 snatched away that safety blanket.
On September 24, a C+D webinar hosted by C+D clinical editor Naimah Callachand during The Clinical Pharmacy Congress brought together experts in cardiology, mental health, respiratory systems and infectious diseases to discuss the effects of COVID-19 lasting longer than three weeks, also known as “long COVID”, for some patients. The panel of experts made it clear that to tackle the unpredictable manifestations of COVID-19, a collaborative approach is the only way forward.
Harpreet Chana, pharmacist and founder of training company The Mental Wealth Academy, raised concerns about her prediction that an onslaught of mental health illnesses is about to hit the nation due to the combination of wintry weather, economic recession and grief from losing loved ones.
As well as paying close attention to patients who may seem at risk of suicide, or suffering from depression and anxiety, Ms Chana brought up an effect of the pandemic that we must not forget: trauma of healthcare workers. Some of them have “had to witness horrific things”, Ms Chana stressed.
It is high time that the government recognises the mental burden placed on pharmacy teams through adequate funding as they go above and beyond to care for patients while battling longer working hours and devastating financial pressures.
Pharmacy teams need fair remuneration to enable them to relieve the burden of demand on the NHS. Pharmacy teams care about their patients, but they are not charities. The experts in the webinar made clear that these pharmacy teams are invaluable when it comes to advising patients about self-care. This unique position in the healthcare system must not be exploited, or it will collapse.
As frontline healthcare professionals with clinical expertise, pharmacists have long bridged the gap between patients and specialists. For those suffering the effects of long-COVID, the accessibility of community pharmacy has become more crucial than ever.
The pharmacy network is a safety net that catches the patients who are affected either directly or indirectly by COVID-19, but who don’t need to go to hospital. Despite this, government officials in England continue to overlook and underfund community pharmacy, leaving community pharmacy to mop up the myriad of long COVID sufferers at the sector’s own expense.
Pharmacists can ease the worries that patients may face by providing personalised advice and care. Patients who would have attended A&E for acute illnesses before the COVID-19 outbreak may now visit a pharmacy as their first port of call. It will be up to the pharmacist to spot signs of serious illness.
In March, the government dismissively referred to pharmacists as “distributers of medicine”, but their healthcare expertise can no longer be ignored. That might take the form of counselling patients who are at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 on measures they can take to keep themselves safe, or signposting individuals to charities that can help with loneliness.
A patient regularly purchasing over-the-counter sleep aids might benefit immensely from a quick discussion about insomnia brought on by stress and anxiety as a result of the pandemic. In isolation these interventions may seem small, but the impact they have on communities can be immeasurable.
Many ill health effects brought on by, or related to, COVID-19 will not require the attention of a doctor. Patients need pharmacy, and the sector needs financial support from the government to enable it to continue. One cannot pour from an empty cup – it is vital that politicians and officials recognise how instrumental pharmacy teams are in easing the long COVID-19 crisis.
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.
Read C+D’s CPD article on support for patients living with ‘long COVID