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What impact will easing lockdown restrictions have on pharmacy?

“I don’t want pharmacy colleagues or patients to be exposed to greater risk by any premature easing of lockdown measures”

Is now the best time to be easing lockdown measures, ponders NPA chair Andrew Lane

Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Sunday (May 11) with a sketch of the Government’s plan for getting England out of lockdown and returning, step-by-step, to some kind of normality.
 
The political, public health and economic judgments behind his speech and subsequent guidance are fiendishly complex and the stakes are very high – including for pharmacies.
 
Pharmacies are not only a key part of the NHS response to COVID-19 but also one of the few types of businesses that have stayed open during the crisis, so we have a unique perspective on the lockdown landscape.
 
As a pharmacist, I don’t want pharmacy colleagues or pharmacy patients to be exposed to greater risk by any premature easing of lockdown measures. This virus has already killed thousands of people, many of whom were regular visitors to pharmacies over the years. Tragically, several pharmacists and pharmacy staff have died, too.
 
If it really is a simple choice between lives and livelihoods, saving lives has to come first.
 
Yet nothing is simple about this pandemic.
 
Lockdown itself can be bad for general health and wellbeing, especially if it means a lack of exercise or missing out on regular appointments with a healthcare professional to manage long terms conditions. What could a continuation of strict lockdown measures mean for the future health and mortality of people with diabetes, respiratory conditions and heart disease for example?
 
Many people in these groups would normally see health professionals for regular check-ups. Cancer deaths could also rise, if people fail to get early symptoms checked-out, for fear of venturing out of the house. There’s the wide realm of mental health to consider as well.
 
There are bound to be knock-on effects for pharmacies and other NHS services due to changes to official advice and the way the public responds to that advice. For example, if there’s a spike in demand for face masks for use by the general public as they begin to encounter one another in greater numbers and in closer proximity, what could this mean for the stock available to health care workers on the front line?
 
Many pharmacies struggle to obtain adequate supplies as it is. The official guidance makes a distinction between ‘face coverings’ for the general public and the ‘face masks’ for use by NHS staff and pharmacies, but can we be sure that such a distinction will be widely understood and respected?
 
Any sustainable route out of lockdown must surely involve widespread access to testing. It’s still uncertain what role pharmacies may play in the supply of tests, but the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is exploring options. The same can be said of a vaccination programme for COVID-19, should that eventually emerge. In earlier pandemics, such as swine flu in 2009, pharmacies have also been distribution points for anti-viral medicines, and might expect to be again. But no such medicine yet exists for this coronavirus.
 
The NPA is now involved in post lockdown scenario planning, around testing in particular, but also considering many other lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis to date. In the light of the profound changes of recent months, in pharmacy and in society more broadly, how should we proceed in the future? We will therefore be inviting members to a series of virtual forums to contribute to our thinking about the ‘new normal’.
 

Andrew Lane is chair of the National Pharmacy Association

8 Comments

Meera Sharma, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

A lot of talk as usual but sorry to say, no confidence in NPA. It has gone backwards for some time now and we have seen this during this critical period too. No value for memebrship whatsoever. Time to leave memebrship. 

Nitin Sodha, Superintendent Pharmacist

Andrew, I am glad that the NPA is on the front foot with thinking about the new normal. Community pharmacy is about trust and as we are one of the only primary care provider with open doors, we need to encourage all to wear PPE. We may also need to think about redesign or process review within dispensary's. And the relaxation of handing out Rx without pharmacists . Telemedicine and telepharmacy should all be developed as well as becoming diagnostic centres. I expect more surgeries to merge / close as Covid has shown that it is possible to manage . We do not know as yet the impact on patients who have had treatments or visits delayed due to GP access. Can CP have play a greater part? The 'safe space' concept can be extended into other areas including counselling , as there is anecdotal evidence of increased anxiety and depression and dependent lucy on meds . Just some thoughts . I am sure that CP will rise to the challenge and the public and NHS&I will see opportunities. 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

All these ideas need training, time and above all MONEY, all of which have been, are and will be in very short supply for the foreseeable future. Each one also erodes the role of the pharmacist to the point where we become an irrelevance and can comfortably be disposed of. The writing is very clearly on the wall and the post-Covid new normal may well be the final nail in pharmacy's coffin.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Lots of opportunities as always but remuneration static for the pharmacist. Even a 5 year old would question such a deal if offered.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

In the short term, I can't see it making any difference whatsoever, because we were always open, but in the long term, all of this furlough etc has to be paid for so we (that is you, because I'll be out by then) will have to brace for the inevitable raft of deep cuts to come. I think the cure will be as bad as the disease.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Government leaks have already told of the pain to come. There is no such thing as a free lunch I think the saying goes.......

Lee T, Pre-reg Pharmacist

Agreed

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Yep, and I don't think 'no pain no gain' will be relevant to the sort of pain pharmacy is going to have to endure.

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