This week has probably been the most challenging week in all my 15 years as a community pharmacist. You spend five years at pharmacy school but no training, books or A1 grades can prepare you for dealing with a national crisis and the associated fear so many are feeling due to the uncertainties surrounding it.
Yes we are well trained and educated in all the health and safety aspects of the virus.
We understand well the hygiene standards that are required.
However, guaranteed supplies of critical items in high demand, such as hand sanitiser, gloves, medical wipes, and face masks at this time are not assured from suppliers.
People who are unwell are being correctly told not to visit the GP surgery as part of controls. This has resulted in many potential Covid-19 patients going directly to community pharmacies for advice, reassurance, and medication.
This in many cases has had the unintended consequence of pharmacies potentially becoming incubators for Covid-19 if strict procedures are not developed and implemented to mitigate the potential spread of Covid-19 within pharmacies to patients and staff.
While vague guidance has been issued from the various governing bodies, more proactive and decisive guidance is critical with time being of the essence.
This week I have witnessed the best — and the worst — of human nature. We have been inundated with unprecedented demand for services. We have the same level of staffing but a much higher work demand under acutely stressful conditions.
Even if additional staff were to be made available the correct procedures for dispensing can take time to develop.
Our day typically starts with customers coming straight through the door asking “do you have any hand sanitiser?”. Unfortunately we don’t. I took 104 calls yesterday asking for it. To my surprise one person actually cursed at me and said it was f****** ridiculous. All I can say is I am sorry about that.
We have set up a containment area in the pharmacy at the door as it is our only hope of crowd control.
During the week it was frightening to think we were losing control on the crowds with 20 to 30 patients in close proximity waiting to get served.
Staff then had to devote precious time to crowd control. We have excellent OTC health care assistants and they excel at what they do. But there were so many unreasonable demands — like patients wanting to stockpile codeine products.
Codeine, as most people are aware, is subject to restriction and requires a pharmacist consultation. I witnessed angry patients at the thought of having to wait to speak to the pharmacist. Then upon refusing them two boxes of Solpadeine and two boxes of Nurofen Plus the abuse started.
I was kindly trying to advise them that codeine will do very little for the symptoms of Covid-19 apart from causing them painful constipation which wouldn’t be helpful in quarantine by any means.
Then we meet the best in the world. Those that come in and thank us for being there and that they really appreciate the reassurance. We meet people so thankful that we are making attempts to keep the pharmacy sanitised at all times and the crowd control is reassuring that they feel protected. These are the patients who are our sunshine on a cloudy day.
I would like to emphasis the key role that community pharmacies have and will continue to play in the national crisis that is Covid 19.
I would ask for patience from patients and the appropriate support from the local authorities and governing bodies as we try to work together in the weeks and months ahead.