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Xrayser: COVID-19 brings out the best and worst in pharmacy patients

“There is now a feeling of unreality that would fit well in an apocalyptic movie”

The COVID-19 outbreak has triggered arguments from patients looking to stockpile as well as spontaneous acts of kindness, Xrayser says

It’s 9.50am on a Sunday and I’m stood in a supermarket queue waiting for the tills to open. Working 60 hours this week left little time to go food shopping. We’re short of the basics like milk, eggs and gin, the last of these being of the greatest concern to me. Last night it was touch and go as to whether I tried adding tonic to our remaining meagre supplies of alcohol hand sanitiser.

Having flashed my NHS smartcard at the staff on the supermarket door to be let in early, I joined the elderly shoppers, who were awake and organised, and the NHS staff – who drifted slowly around with sunken eyes making the place look like the shopping mall scene from Dawn of the Dead.

There is now a feeling of unreality that would fit well in an apocalyptic movie. The streets are bare and the roads quiet, yet at the pharmacy queues of people form outside despite opening earlier than usual.

In they pile with the repeated mantra “hand gel? Loo roll? Paracetamol?” As if it were some mystical incantation to ward off the evil, followed by incredulity that we can’t predict the next product delivery. Then they demand prescriptions for inhalers, paracetamol and phenomenal quantities of hormone replacement therapy drugs, suggesting a gynaecological symptom of COVID-19 that has, as yet, gone unreported.

I imagine by now that all pharmacies have had complaints about lack of stock and waiting times, exacerbated by constant phone calls to either request scripts or enquire about hand gel, loo roll and paracetamol, and patients freaked out by the constant presaging of apocalyptic plague.

Of course, any crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. We’ve seen the groups of residents who have divided up each street and take turns to care for the elderly and needy around them. Several have come into our pharmacy and left their names as being willing to deliver desperately needed medicines, although that brings its own governance challenges.

We’ve had many thanks for our work from grateful patients accompanied by boxes of chocolates we usually only see at Christmas. And we’ve been thanked for rationing all products, particularly soap, hand gel and paracetamol to one per person, regardless of the pleas and arguments. Yes, these arguments have shown a less charitable side of people.

As Mrs Xrayser and I were leaving the supermarket on Sunday a woman came rushing over and thrust a bunch of flowers into the hand of my wife. “I saw your pharmacy badges,” she said, indicating the NHS lanyards around our necks, “ and I just wanted to say thank you for what you’re doing!” I was so touched by this spontaneous act that I felt tears start to well up in my eye, which I can only attribute to tiredness.

A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser


Alexander Dale, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

Heaven forbid our beloved Xrayser should run out of gin. Can I send you one, care of C&D?

Brian Plainer, Locum pharmacist

Wonderful light humoured yet brutally honest depiction of what's really going on out in our pharmacy world - thanks and keep it coming

Yogindra Gopaul, Community pharmacist

I think what this crisis has shown is how strong we are as professionals as well as our teams. We may never get the recognition we deserve but we are still and essential part of the community. With regards to be people being horrible, maybe some lessons to learn after all this is done is for the powers that be to treat us more like a healthcare provider and less of a restaurant i.e the customer saying i dont like you and putting a complaint. In a way we have encouraged this behaviour and now we have a generation of self entitled people and this shows in the surge of abusive behaviour in this climate.

Brian Plainer, Locum pharmacist

Very well said, there are too many haughty self-serving, self-centered individuals who still come in to the pharmacy with direct comments of total disregard like "I didn't want to waste the doctors time" - (read as - but you Mr faceless ever-available pharmacist'll do) - Could they even get to speak let alone see their GP right now?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

The situation has definitely highlighted the true colours of a lot of people. It has also highlighted some of the weaknesses of many sectors such as universities, healthcare, and businesses. It has also shown how these sectors can be delivered with different methods and the impact that might have in the future in terms of metamorphosing these sectors in the future once this is all said and done.

Put simply for example, are we likely to see more working from home situations? Are meetings more likely to be taken online? Radial pedagogy?  

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