‘We were constantly sprinting, now it feels like a marathon’ - pharmacy director speaks on fighting through coronavirus pandemic

Anil Sharma (right) with Lucy Frazer MP outside Haddenham Pharmacy on Station Road. Picture: SUPPLIE

Anil Sharma (right) with Lucy Frazer MP outside Haddenham Pharmacy on Station Road. Picture: SUPPLIED - Credit: Archant

Pharmacies across the UK, including my own seven pharmacies in Cambridgeshire, have been working hard on the NHS frontline to keep our regular services going, whilst meeting vastly increased demand because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In March and April, it felt like we were constantly sprinting to keep up with demand for advice and medicines. Now it feels more like a marathon and we’re digging deep into our reserves of stamina to keep going.

We continue to treat minor illnesses, help people to manage long-term medical conditions, supply medicines and provide urgent care.

With many other health services closed or operating by phone, community pharmacy has been the visible face of the NHS for the majority of the population that does not have coronavirus, and we have been absorbing pressure that would otherwise have fallen onto other parts of the system including GPs and A&E.

As an aside, demand for our main private service, travel vaccinations, has fallen off a cliff for obvious reasons.

Many pharmacies have been closing to the public during the middle of the day, to give staff a chance to clean the premises and get through the backlog of dispensing workload, so that they are free to engage with patients when the doors are back open.

I’m pleased to say that, during the pandemic, my own pharmacies have kept to our normal opening hours, but on the other hand, that comes at a considerable cost.

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But even just to keep our normal services going, we need more support from the Government, especially in terms of helping to meet the extra costs of staffing, medicines, protective gear and home deliveries.

By and large, this has come out of our own pockets and this is not sustainable that way.

We’re so touched by the good wishes we’ve had from our regular patients and customers, and we want to ask for your continued support.

Above all, please do not enter a pharmacy if you think you have coronavirus or exhibit symptoms.

Remember, the more pharmacy team members that become poorly or have to self-isolate, the harder it will be to maintain the essential supply of medicines and other care that people need.

So, here are some other things you can do, to help us help you:

- Be patient: all pharmacies are under pressure and are working around the clock to ensure that you get what you need

- Be courteous to pharmacy staff even if you are stressed: they are doing their utmost to support you, so treat them as you, yourself, would like to be treated

- Order medicines and purchase products as normal: there is no need to stockpile; this will help to avoid creating difficulties for others, so that everyone in our community gets the medicines they need

- Give the surgery and pharmacy time to process your prescription: because people have been staying at home, pharmacies have seen demand for medicines deliveries increase

- Please think first: can carers, family members, neighbours and friends collect the prescription? Not all pharmacies offer home deliveries and those that do have to prioritise the most vulnerable housebound patients

- Take a look to see if your local pharmacy has a website you may be able to order your medicines online or get an answer to your question there, which could be convenient for you

- See if your pharmacy is on social media: they may post regular updates on opening hours and health advice that you may find helpful

- Look after your health by taking preventative measures such a regular handwashing and follow official advice on social distancing

We’re here for you in this crisis, but our stamina and resources aren’t inexhaustible. Thank you for helping us to continue to do our vital work on the health service frontline.