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Hardest thing I've ever done?

Is setting up a Covid vaccination centre the hardest thing I’ve ever done? It certainly seemed so at the time, although that’s in the past and now and running the centre is now the ‘new normal’. And that presents a whole new set of challenges.

Many of you will now be undertaking your own journey into this particular unknown, and the stress it brings as you run it alongside your existing businesses. It was, and is, a Herculean effort. And one that could not be achieved without the support of the local community, and continued support from volunteers.

I run an independent community pharmacy with ten, mostly part-time staff. The vaccination centre requires two shifts of six marshalls, one pharmacist, three vaccinators and two administrators every day it operates. It requires a duo behind the scenes as my rota team to pull the shifts together. And  me and my partner to brief each shift, receive deliveries and vaccines on non-operational days and populate the appointment slots, report stock holding, incidents and update communications to patients, volunteers and staff (and operate our pharmacy and village post office as well).

We have had to cope with issues ranging from Covid positives not being able to attend for shifts, fridge breakdown, dealing with mask phobias, non-delivery of essentials, 70-mile round trips to source syringes in order to continue operating and WhatsApp upsets following the odd insensitive comment among the volunteer team!

We have achieved thousands of vaccinations, including housebound provision to cancer patients. We opened a new dedicated phone line to take queries that were coming at a rate of one every two minutes when cohort six eligible medical was released! And we have a real sense of pride to go with the thanks among the volunteer team and the public we have helped.

But to top it all, I have a really warm feeling that pharmacy has never helped each other as much. We are genuinely all in it together. Locally, those of us who went live with our centres at the same time are in touch daily, raising issues and helping each other out. I have had phone calls from others venturing into the vaccination centre world to ask my advice. It’s fantastic to think that fellow pharmacists feel they can reach out and they are. We are not alone out here.

I love that fact that my clinical knowledge is being used to guide patients, and to give direction to the nurses, doctors, a dentist and even a vet who are working shifts at the centre vaccinating. The sense of team is stronger than any I have experienced before.

True, I feel a huge weight of responsibility and I must admit to regularly waking at 2am with thoughts whizzing through my head, only being to go back to sleep hours later after I’ve written everything down and thought it all through. But it is worth it and I really hope we can all capitalise on the fantastic ability shown by pharmacists and their teams and the renewed respect amongst the public and from other professionals too.

Surely now is the time to bring the NHS further into pharmacy and enable us to use our skills in more ways to benefit patient care. For example, I should be able to use my independent prescribing qualification in diagnosis and NHS treatment, as well as for monitoring and review of patients with long term conditions.

I know this is a familiar soapbox topic for me, but we can do this. We just need the NHS bodies to let us. Surely the experience with Covid has proven once and for all the value and capability of community pharmacy?

Right. Got to go. I’ve got a delivery of 1600 jabs to receive.

Lindsey Fairbrother’s Goodlife Pharmacy is in Hatton, Derbyshire




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