The country is almost two months into ‘phase one’ of the coronavirus pandemic. There is speculation about how and when the lockdown is going to be eased. There may be several phases to the pandemic response, and none of them are going to feel like ‘business as usual’ for anybody.
Pharmacy has a new normal. Social distancing brings a different sort of pressure. Outdoor queueing means no downtime for some, as there is always the next patient outside. For others, the labelling of 1.5 million people as ‘shielded’ and requiring medicines deliveries has created an expectation that will be baked in by the time we get back to anything approaching the pre-pandemic state.
The intense pressure on supply has gone, although there are clearly lessons to be learned from how quickly the system was overloaded in the middle of March. Community pharmacy and the supply chain has been wound as tight as a drum in England, with austerity and then the cuts.
The network has coped magnificently in maintaining the service. With late nights and early mornings playing catch up. With staff self-isolating adding pressure to the rest of the team, and feeling guilty about it. By covering for businesses that were unable to fulfil their duties for days at a time. By making stuff up as it went along, in the absence of any guidance about how to deal with a panicking public. Often without adequate supplies of appropriate PPE (whatever appropriate was at the time).
I suggested last month that the professional media has a role in telling the story as it was lived by pharmacists and their teams. Numbers tell only half of it – the half that’s easily measured. The items, the loss of enhanced and advanced services as consultation room doors were closed. The cost of the extra prescriptions; the number of paid for ‘NHS’ deliveries. An acceleration in the move to online pharmacy.
The numbers won’t capture what it was like in the eye of the storm – going home late and getting in early to try to keep on top. The numbers won’t capture how long it took to deal with the backlog, or the frustration of trying to source medicines that were in even shorter supply than normal, because everyone who’s ever had an inhaler decided to get an extra one ‘just in case’. They won’t tell you how people did not feel protected, as they turned up to work in a community pharmacy, on the NHS frontline.
They won’t capture the thanks from patients and the public (or the abuse). They won’t measure the instances of pharmacists providing reassurance to members of the public who turned to them because they could, when the GP remote triage system did not meet their needs, and even when it did. They won’t capture the ideas that occurred along the way, for doing things differently (and better) because necessity is the mother of invention. And they won’t capture, in any systematic way, the things that, had they been fixed years ago, would have helped everyone do better in unprecedented circumstances.
The real story – your story – starts here.