Told in the words of pharmacy heroes across the U.K.
Pharmacies are on the frontline of the national effort to limit the impact of coronavirus and to keep people well.
As well as handling a massive increase in demand for advice and medicines, they have continued to provide urgent care, help for minor illnesses and support for people with long term medical conditions.
With so many other health services operating behind closed doors, 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.
Looking to the next phase of the country’s response to the pandemic, pharmacies could be the key to unlocking mass testing and helping to ease Britain back into normal life.
In March 2020, a survey by the NPA estimated that pharmacies dispensed between a quarter and a third more prescriptions compared with the previous month.
The number of home deliveries provided by pharmacies more than doubled in that time – some reported a 300% increase.
The number of phone calls to pharmacies tripled over the month, with all pharmacies reporting an increase in working hours that often required them to hire locum staff to manage the workload.
A second survey, carried out over the early May bank holiday, revealed that, over three hours, each pharmacy on average:
• Dispensed 80 prescription items
• Supplied 21 over-the-counter medicines
• Made five home deliveries
• Had 17 clinical consultations
• Dealt with two interactions with other parts of the health system (NHS111, GPs, community nurses, etc.)
• Had four non-clinical interactions with the public (social, reassurance, practical advice about living independently at home)
A third NPA survey, in June, showed that at least 55% of people have visited a pharmacy during the lockdown period and 89% believe pharmacies have played an essential role in handling the coronavirus crisis.
But statistics only tell so much. Here we record the true life stories of pharmacy heroes on the health service frontline – in their own words.
Fighting back against the Virus
Community pharmacies are administering COVID-19 vaccinations as part of the national effort to protect the population
Andrews Pharmacy, Macclesfield, Andrew Hodgson
I have been a pharmacist for 38 years and I can say the day when my pharmacy – Andrews in Macclesfield – became one of the very first in the country to administer the COVID-19 vaccine was the biggest day of my career.
It’s been quite emotional at times for our patients. Some people have not been out of their homes since last March. They are hesitant to be outside and are not used to seeing people. They see being vaccinated as the start of the end of this grim existence.
I opened this pharmacy in 1990 and feel close to many of our patients. I know four generations of some families who use the pharmacy. We are hard-wired into this community.
We knew in mid-December that we would be part of this programme. Christmas is usually our busiest time of the year anyway, so to prepare for this on top of that has made it a very busy few weeks. A lot for work has been required of the team here but we are very excited about it.
Having worked in this community for so long I have also been able to call on local volunteers to help us – friends, family, other pharmacists and even local Scout leaders who had helped us at the start of the pandemic with medicines deliveries. Everyone is DBS checked and there are various roles to carry out – we have people doing the admin and there are also car park marshals.
Everyone here is part of something special. We’re proud and honoured to be involved in this national effort to help protect the population of the country and hopefully return us all to some form of normality.
Hollowood Chemist, north-west, Raj Patel
COVID-19 is the biggest public health crisis to face this country in decades and, to win the battle against this terrible virus, everyone needs to pull together.
That has certainly been our experience at Hollowood Chemists – we have branches across north-west England. We have set up three vaccination sites – in Wigan, Crewe and Haydock – and have been greatly heartened by the co-operation we have received from those communities who have helped us in setting up these centres in a matter of weeks.
In Crewe, where my son Jainil Patel is the clinical lead, our vaccination site is in a motorbike shop! The shop is across the road from our branch in the town. The owner of the bike store, Roger Morris, knew we were looking for a site and told us we could use half of his shop at no cost.
In Wigan, the council have moved heaven and earth to help us. The vaccination site is served by a bus-only lane but the council responded to our request to allow patients to be able to enter the centre from the main road. They have also managed to allow free parking where possible, which is a big help for the elderly people arriving for their jabs.
I am operating lead at the Haydock site. Here, we have vaccinations upstairs from our premises. In order that we do not hinder the usual business of the main pharmacy, and to help with social distancing, we have organised a separate entry and exit point for those arriving for vaccinations, for those hard of walking we have a lift to get them to the first floor.
It’s not all been plain sailing, though. It’s been a headache sourcing items such as needles and syringes among other things and there have been other challenges such as recruiting and training staff and preparing the sites. However, it has all been worth the effort when you see the relief in the patients after their vaccination.
What’s great is that everyone has stepped up to plate and it’s shown the power of coming together for the common good, as well as demonstrating the responsiveness, leadership and innovation of community pharmacy.
Newdays Pharmacy, Berkshire, Olivier Picard
I’m doing this to help kick COVID-19 into touch. By offering more choice, in a convenient location, we’ll be making a big contribution locally. As soon as bookings were enabled through the National Booking System, we quickly became fully subscribed so there’s no doubt that people trust pharmacists to protect them. It’s a daunting prospect but perfectly do-able and we’re proud to be taking part in this vital programme.
S. G. Barai Pharmacy, Sutton, Reena Barai
Even people who don’t trust the vaccine do trust their local pharmacist and will have a dialogue with them. From my experience, it’s really important to give my patients the time and opportunity to talk openly about their health beliefs. I’ve had many patients ask my opinion on the COVID-19 vaccine and in particular the safety and efficacy of it. It helps that this year my team gave many people their first ever flu jab, who had previously been afraid to have that vaccine because of perceived side-effects.
Pharmacy in the NHS family
Community pharmacies are part of the NHS family and provide a range of NHS services. Pharmacy teams work with other professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to provide the best possible care as part of the local healthcare team.
“The COVID pandemic showed real cross-sector support and collaboration across the medical profession and health boards.
“Two local surgeries were very co-operative and trusted us to do whatever was appropriate for us. We were able to substitute medicines which were unavailable and they regularly called to support us.
“Dentists and opticians also rallied round. Any demands from their customers in terms of medicines were passed on to us.
“The health boards were also very good. When our staff had COVID symptoms, they arranged for them to be immediately tested. They also made sure we had plenty of PPE. They were always there for us.
“There was complete 24/7 support in one way or another. Everyone felt for each other and had trust in each other.”
Central Pharmacy, Cardiff, Raj Aggarwal
“If we have any concerns over a patient, we will work alongside their GP, contacting the GP and deciding what is best for them.
“We have been working with GPs on making free deliveries to patients who have been self-isolating with COVID.
“We also work with community practitioner nurses with patients who have had addiction problems, checking their usage of methadone, buprenorphine, suboxone or naltrexone.”
Blackburn Pharmacy, Aberdeen, Alison Webster
YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE NHS FRONTLINE
Some young people have been criticized for not taking coronavirus seriously. But there are lots of young heroes in this crisis – many of them work in pharmacies!
“After being qualified for just five months, my regional manager called and asked if I would like to manage a store temporarily while the regular pharmacist went off on maternity leave. I started on the 16th of March and one week later the government announced we were going into lockdown.
It was invaluable having a brilliant dispensary team around me whose judgement I trusted as we dealt with situations that none of us had ever come across before, such as translating a Cyprian ladies’ medication into English with a GP as she became stranded in the UK; sourcing epilepsy medication for a young man with learning difficulties when he hadn’t managed to get hold of it for several days; and delivering hundreds of prescriptions to shielded patients even when our regular deliverer had to isolate as a shielded patient.
Recently, as things calmed down a bit, my girlfriend, who is also a pharmacist, and I moved to a new house. As we were unpacking boxes we found a picture frame that read “Our special memory, April 2020” – it was supposed to be used with an image from a planned holiday to France, but the only picture we have from that time is a selfie, taken as we left the pharmacy together having just worked a 14 hour shift alongside another member of the team. We have it on our mantlepiece to remind us of the amazing work we did during the COVID pandemic.”
Dan Melrose, Day Lewis Pharmacy, East Sussex
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Pharmacies have stepped up to do their duty – and more – during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In December 2019 I told my staff that I was going to sell or shut the pharmacy as it was no longer financially viable. We had a buyer and a sale was proceeding – then the COVID-19 lockdown began. Work went ballistic, 10-hour shifts – dispense, deliver, sleep, repeat. I told the buyer and his staff that the sale was suspended for the duration. Priority number one was the customers and patients. No one was going down on my watch. Staff adapted seamlessly to new shift patterns and an ex-locum re-registered to support the dosette service.
“In April, I got a letter to shield, so couldn’t work face-to-face with the public. The ex-locum, who was now working full time, and another friend, an ex-contractor, were covering for me. An extra driver was taken on for expanding deliveries. I was carrying out ‘head office’ jobs such as contacting suppliers from home.
“The staff have been brilliant and the customers so grateful. Community pharmacy is one of the precious jewels of healthcare and puts patients before anybody else.”
C. J. McKendrick Pharmacy, Swindon. Chris McKendrick.
“At the beginning of the crisis and for a few months afterwards, we made sure that at least one or two of our staff went out to patients’ houses nearby to take their prescriptions if they were shielding/urgent.
“We did this on a rota system and wrote down all of the patients we were delivering to on a list. This helped the patients who were shielding with no nearby friends or family to collect for them. It also meant they didn’t go without important medications such as antibiotics.
“When we had medication shortages, such as Clenil inhalers, we went out of our way to find alternatives such as Soprobec. To help patients further, we called their doctors on their behalf to make sure that the alternative prescription was sent down ASAP.
“We did this because, at the time, patients were only allowed out of the house once a day for one essential journey. Therefore, calling to get their inhaler organised for them saved the patients stress and an extra journey.
“Some patients rang us at the pharmacy about receiving their prescriptions saying that they didn’t want to come inside as they were either feeling anxious or trying not to be inside anywhere other than their own home.
“Therefore we offered a service where, if they called us to let us know they were outside in the car park in their own car, we would come out to them and pass the their prescription through the window.”
Brandt Road Pharmacy, Lincoln. Kat Melladay.
“A patient was needing an anticoagulant medicine urgently. After numerous calls between the pharmacy and the wholesaler, and with the patient desperate for his medication, we ended up calling the manufacturer. At first, the manufacturer was adamant that the product could only be sourced via the wholesaler, but in the end they said they could deliver that evening. Despite being a Friday and wanting to go home to my young family, I stayed until 90 minutes after closing until the medication arrived via a courier. As soon as the medication was unpacked, I contacted the patient and delivered the medication to him.”
Newdays Pharmacy, Windsor, Berkshire. Olivier Picard.
“The first week of the lockdown was horrendous in keeping up with demand for prescriptions. Staff were coming in at 7.30am and going home at 8pm. It was a very stressful time. We put up perspex screens, had PPE, had hand sanitiser at the door, kept people 2m apart and allowed two in at a time. But we got through it and came out smiling. It was about teamwork – the team were amazing.”
Well Pharmacy, Lochgelly, Fife. Jayne Kirk.
“The pharmacy team saved a 12-year-old boy from going into anaphylaxis. He had a nut allergy and had possibly eaten something nutty. He had difficulty breathing and a rash. He was given Chlorphenamine syrup to ease the allergy and the team waited with him for 20 minutes until his breathing returned to normal (Epipen was at the ready, just in case). His mum and dad were really happy. As per routine, he was told to seek medical advice if required with his GP or 999 if his condition starts deteriorating.”
Cross Chemist, Hangar Lane, West London. Dhval Patel.
“We are a small community pharmacy based in Solihull. We are proud of that fact that, in spite of extenuating circumstances presented to us due to COVID, we have not closed our pharmacy for even a single minute, trading has continued for our contractual 55 hours a week.
“We are proud that we have helped our elderly patients offering them free deliveries for dispensing in the month of March – our business made 1,011 deliveries and for April 922 deliveries!
“Pharmacy is a very under-rated profession. People forget how much hard work is put in by pharmacy teams across the country.”
Asterwell Pharmacy, Solihull. Naman Shah.
“Patients’ anxieties are high and they struggle to see a doctor. They are coming into us for reassurance and advice constantly, and we are overwhelmed by the amount of people coming to us.
“The pharmacy had a patient come in who had been referred to them for a blood pressure check. She was light-headed and feeling very unwell. We took her blood pressure which was slightly low and then she showed us an allergic reaction she had to the antibiotics she was taking. She had a rash all over her body which was getting worse. We gave her some antihistamines, kept her in the pharmacy until she felt better and the rash started to reduce. The patient was really scared and had nowhere to turn but us and was extremely grateful we are here.”
Garner Pharmacy, Pinner. Kashma Shah.
“Two key staff away so it has been challenging. We needed more organisation than ever before that I can recall in our 40 years’ experience. The customers have been very supportive. They always thank us for keeping open when the hospitals and GPs have been less accessible. They say, ‘Where would we go without you? Thank God you are open’.
“Customers come from all areas as they do not want to queue up at supermarkets. Phone calls do not stop. We are so tired at the end of the day. Still we go and deliver to vulnerable isolating patients who are very grateful.
“Had problems getting a much-used inhaler. Liaised with surgeries to change and source otherwise there would have been more call on NHS for asthma attacks. A customer fell down outside whom we gave dressings, saving a visit to the hospital.”
Oaks Cross Pharmacy, Stevenage. Indira Shah.
“There has been massive demand on phone calls and our lines are always busy – hasn’t stopped ringing for entire days! Lots of delivery requests, reorder requests and other advice queries. Becoming increasingly difficult for staff members to attend the phone.”
Kitsons Pharmacy, Worcester, Amo Sohal.
“We delivered prescriptions free of charge to reduce pressure on surgeries and keep patients safe. We felt we he had to help after we saw elderly patients standing for up to three hours in queues for medication. Social distancing was not being adhered to, everyone was leaning on the same balcony. We recruited some drivers who bring prescriptions to the patients’ door free of charge. All local surgeries were covered by the scheme.”
Buckden Pharmacy, Buckden, Cambs. Asghar Karim.
“One evening, a patient from Bicester was in desperate need of medication for earache. She went to the pharmacy at 9pm, but I had finished my shift and had returned home to Oxford. My brother Adnaan, who also works at the pharmacy, called me and explained the situation, asking if I could return to the store for Natalie. I drove back to the pharmacy in Bicester. Natalie went to the pharmacy at 10pm and I saw and treated her. She then put it on Facebook and the Oxford Mail picked it up. I had no issue with seeing the patient – she needed to be seen.”
Ahmey Pharmacy, Bicester, Oxfordshire. Faheem Ahmed.
“I live in Wigton, 25 miles from the pharmacy I own in Workington.
“My wife Caroline replied to a post on a Facebook page from a woman struggling to get a prescription from a local pharmacy. She said ‘Matt will sort it’. I ended up with 150 patients in Wigton, it was an open page!
“So I would finish work each evening, drive home, have my tea then spend up to an hour-and-a-half delivering prescriptions.”
Urwin Cumbria Ltd. Matthew Edwards.
“Our pharmacy was nominated by a reader of the local paper for ‘always being courteous, professional and willing to give advice’. It was very nice to be recognised, but I was a little bit humbled and embarrassed. I am just doing my best as a community pharmacist.
“I kept the shop open throughout the pandemic – instead of cutting hours, I increased hours and ensured medication has been delivered to all patients who have been shielding or self-isolating. We have had more prescriptions, many from outside my usual catchment area. Excellent customer service is a huge part of my business. I feel like I was just doing my job.”
JP Pharmacy, Watford. Jay Patel.
“As GPs shut their doors, all patients needing any medical care from common ailments to more serious conditions flooded through our doors.
“As an independent pharmacy that has been in this family for over 43 years and served this community for so many generations, we managed to stay open throughout this challenging time.
“Our counter assistant, who has been in this post for 43 years, had to stop work as he was vulnerable. My two staff remaining stepped up ten-fold and were the most amazing people coping with all that’s going on, and most staff stayed on way beyond their scheduled hours.
“We stayed open every day thanks to our fantastic team. Myself and my wife both being pharmacists worked until 11pm a few nights in a row just to clear backlog so we were ready for the new challenge the next day. One pharmacist and one staff member worked six-day weeks for three months during this period.
Coombe Hill Pharmacy, Kingston. Sunil Patel.
“All community pharmacies have had to work under so much pressure during this pandemic and I applaud them all. At Sturdee Avenue Pharmacy we have adapted so well to the needs of this local community by ensuring we have adequate stock of items people desperately needed (hand sanitiser etc) which we sold for next to no profit to make sure our items were affordable for everyone.
“We have taken on new services, such as a palliative care service, spending time sourcing medications needed to ensure those passing are comfortable, and making sure we always have them available. We also took on a newly commissioned service in which those with symptoms would visit a hot spot, where people with COVID symptoms would be directed to the Medway GP alliance. They wouldn’t go to their own GP. The prescription was then e-mailed to us, and we made this a priority that they would be delivered that same day, even if it meant the pharmacist delivering after work.
“Here are some words of encouragement and appreciation we have received from our customers: ‘Amidst the chaos of this funny old world, this card comes to you full of joy, love, courage and a sprinkling of MAGIC! Believe in these words but most importantly believe in you. Thank you for still being here and thank you for all that you are doing to keep us going’.”
Sturdee Avenue Pharmacy, Gillingham, Kent. Atika Tailor.
“Every Wednesday for a few weeks since the beginning of Covid-19, we all stayed working until 8pm rather than our normal closing time of 6pm to catch up with the workload so that patients wouldn’t have to wait too long for their prescriptions.
“At the beginning of the crisis, we were flooded with many more prescriptions so staying this extra bit of time during the middle of the week really helped us to catch up and make sure all the prescriptions were done in time.
“One of our colleagues took it upon herself to look out for elderly shielding neighbours and dropped off their prescriptions after she finished work. She was not asked to do this, but she thought it would be kind, with the patients’ permission, to do this as she lives near to them.”
Brandt Road Pharmacy, Lincoln. Kat Melladay.
“Most of the things that my staff have done, over and above, they would have done (and do) at any other time, but perhaps without the same risks. Numerous stories of staff (not delivery drivers) going to people’s homes on their own way home, to drop off prescriptions. Nothing dramatic, I know, but lots of little victories for pharmacy staff in the fight against this horrid pandemic.
“In March, when the concept of shielding or isolating was something of a novelty, a member of staff offered to drop off urgent meds, after work, to a patient (not elderly) who was struggling to get out. Sadly, this patient was one of the earliest victims of Covid 19 in Wolverhampton. The member of staff concerned (a lady living alone) was poorly, as a result, self-isolated for 14 days, but came back to work. At that point, antibody testing for pharmacy staff was not available.
“At another branch a disadvantaged young person was unable to get an appointment at the local surgery, although by the estimation of our pharmacy staff she was in dire need. She had open wounds on her legs, and was in a dreadful state. My staff ordered and paid for a taxi to take her to the local A&E department. She had no money. She received treatment and is grateful.”
J. Docter Ltd, West Midlands. Paul McCourt.
“We converted all our seven digital screens to advertise Covid-19 messages, for example: ‘Wash hands – keep the NHS safe’; ‘We can deliver to vulnerable and elderly patients’. This support is not funded by the NHS and they probably pay for these adverts on TV and billboards/digital screen elsewhere.”
Mattock Lane Pharmacy, Ealing. Sanjay Patel.
“I’ve always been passionate about working in pharmacy because I enjoy helping people feel better and get well as quickly as possible. I feel that it’s my duty to support as much as I can during this challenging time. One of my family members is vulnerable so to keep her safe and continue doing my day to day job, I moved out of my family home for the time being.
“When the outbreak first started, it was really busy and difficult at times – I have worked in pharmacy since I was 17 and I’ve never experienced such a high demand in prescription orders. We also had some staff members in self-isolation meaning we’ve had less people working in the pharmacy, but we have all adapted to this new way of working and are really seeing the hard work pay off.
“To keep ourselves and customers safe in stores, we have been provided with protective equipment like perspex screens and visors, floor markings and reminding customers to observe the correct social distance. We are also encouraging card transactions and are suggesting people bring their own pen to sign prescriptions.
“I’m incredibly proud to be working for Boots now more than ever, I love my job and will continue to help and support our patients, giving them the medicine and healthcare advice they need.”
Boots, Lancaster. Hadeal Jaidy.
MORE THAN MEDICINES
With many other health services closing their doors or operating remotely, people relied on pharmacies to help with a wide range of health and social care concerns.
“Our pharmacy is a ‘safe place’ where vulnerable people can go to for help. I supported a patient suffering from domestic violence and, today, that person lives safely in a supported accommodation.”
“We have ensured that elderly and vulnerable patients are taken care of and not forgotten at home in the difficult times. I have called people to check on their welfare and supported them with any health needs they may have. Some of them had not had anyone check on them in a while and were happy to know that someone truly cares.”
Priory Community Pharmacy, Dudley. Olutayo Arikawe.
“The experience of my own five pharmacies in Birmingham during the coronavirus pandemic reflects the fact that pharmacies provide a wide range of support, much of which is rarely captured in official statistics, nor adequately remunerated, if at all.
“With many GP surgeries, opticians, dentists and other healthcare providers being closed or providing reduced access for patients in our area, patients, including those who are not regular to our pharmacies, have turned to our pharmacy teams for support with all manner of concerns.
“People trust us partly because of our place at the heart of the community and the regular contact we have with patients, as well as our medicines expertise.
“So we have supplied not only medicines but also safe, sound advice and moral support. We have been a pillar of support within the neighbourhoods we serve and cared for people’s overall wellbeing, not only their physical health. That has always been the case, but is even more apparent during this pandemic.”
Pan Healthcare, West Midlands, Sanjeev Panesar.
“The pharmacy has been running a daily food parcel give away to their elderly and housebound patients. We got the idea when one the staff visited a cash and carry warehouse. The parcels include long-life bread; pasta, rice pudding, soup and biscuits. It’s has been a real success with our patients and the feedback has been excellent. Patients are very appreciative, really grateful for what we are doing and this is above and beyond what they expect. A lot don’t have family living locally and this is quite a deprived area.”
Forshaw Pharmacy, Liverpool. James Forshaw.
“We worked with the manager of the Co-op next door to provide essential food items to the isolated and elderly – teabags, milk, bread, canned goods, soup, etc.
“We set up a fundraising web page and raised £520. There was a massive response on social media and the local community was very supportive. A local radio station also helped to get the word out.”
Lloyds Pharmacy, Aylesbury. Natalie Holmes.
“I partnered with a Dudley optician who is able to offer a virtual optical service to patients either in-store or in their own home to be able to further support patients.
“We opened our pharmacy back garden as a community garden for people to use to help to improve their mental health and the produce was given to the community. Gardening has been known to have great benefits including reducing depression, anxiety, obesity and heart disease as well as increasing life satisfaction.”
Priory Community Pharmacy, Dudley. Olutayo Arikawe.
KEEPING PEOPLE SAFE
Pharmacy teams have put themselves at risk in order to help others stay well.
“We saw a significant increase of referrals from GPs for BP testing prior to contraceptive prescribing and general BP testing. Also we were requested by a patient to take the temperature of a suspected Covid patient which I carried out in full PPE gear at their car. Also we were asked to check minor skin infections on behalf of a GP prior to scripts being issued.
“Like a lot of pharmacies we could not exercise social distancing within our dispensary so we had to split our team to ensure we had a back-up team in the event of someone becoming infected.
“Also our delivery volume doubled overnight and we had to expand our delivery service within 24 hours to look after the vulnerable and elderly. The GPs assisted by allowing patients to order repeat prescriptions 10 days early to allow for geographical deliveries in a rural area.
“Face to face consultations for smoking cessation, minor ailments and Emergency Hormonal Contraception has become difficult due to the donning of PPE.
“Our A&E closed in Newry so we saw a significant increase in dealing with minor injuries as patients did not want to attend hospital.”
Camlough Pharmacy, Belfast. Seamus Strain.
“In the early days after lockdown, we had to think quickly about how to manage the control of crowds that were coming into our pharmacy and initially we restricted it to three patients at a time in our pharmacy. We had to put a sign up to let patients know whether we have hand sanitiser, thermometers and things like that because people are coming in all the time asking for these items.
“At that time we had to stop all non-urgent face to face consultations in our pharmacy as well – we provide support for people who give up smoking, for example – these appointments were postponed or we’d do those consultations on the telephone.
“Initially we had to use some makeshift ideas, Blue Peter-style. We used our chairs to create a barrier around our counter so that we could keep that social distance between us and our patients.”
S. G. Barai, Sutton. Reena Barai.
“There was huge expense in supplying PPE to staff and hand sanitiser etc for customers. We received a four-week supply of PPE of one pack of gloves and two packs of 50 masks; this was patently insufficient and we had to personally fund the shortfall. We are all working in close proximity in a confined space.”
Kennedy’s Pharmacy, Antrim. Patrick Kennedy.
“Very early on we realised the risks staff were carrying was quite significant. When patients came in they would congregate around the till. So we introduced a one-in, one-out policy to maintain social distancing. We also put up signs telling people not to enter if they have symptoms. We had no access to PPE but we were very fortunate that we have dentists as patients who had stock of their own to give us.”
Copes Pharmacy, Streatham. Ashok Soni.
“My wife Sukhi and I are co-owners of a single independent pharmacy. We are both pharmacists.
“When the pandemic hit, it occurred to us that if one of the team became ill, or got COVID, there was the potential for the whole team to go down – and that would mean closure, leaving patients without medication, putting them in turmoil. Our big fear was letting people down.
“The solution we came up with kept us running and safe. It was to split the team in half. My wife led one half of the team, while the other half of the team isolated at home.
“Whichever one of myself or Sukhi was working stayed in a hotel for that week. At the end of the week when I was working, I checked I was symptom-free before going home. Even then, the family would go to a separate room and I would go straight to have a shower and put my clothes in a bag.
“Only then would I come down to the family. We’d spend a day together, then we’d swap. We did that for ten weeks.
“On Mother’s Day, one of the partners of our staff came in and built a perspex screen over the counter to make the pharmacy like a bank, serving out of a hatch.
“We have had a lot of requests for deliveries from people who are shielding. We split our two delivery drivers, one for each team.
“Before they would hand medication to the patients. Now they place the meds on the doorstep and observe while the patient collects them.
“In 23 years in pharmacy this has been the most challenging time of my career, but it has been the most rewarding as well. We’ve not let our patients down, we’ve come through it.”
Calow Pharmacy, Chesterfield. Pete Johal.
“I ran the equivalent of five marathons across the month of May, smashing my original target of four marathons. In completing this challenge, I have raised £3,215 and been able purchase 20,000 individual items of PPE for key workers in 18 care homes around Cheshire, Yorkshire and Merseyside.
“I felt compelled to take on this fundraising challenge after hearing about the actual death rate in care homes and also from speaking to the key workers on the ground.
“All funds raised will be used to buy Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for those working face-to-face day in, day out, putting others first. PPE is essential to safeguard key workers and also care home residents.
RB Healthcare, Stockport. Rishi Bhatia.
PROUD OF OUR COMMUNITIES
A crisis can bring out the best in people. Many patients have rallied round their local pharmacy in remarkable displays of generosity and community spirit.
“We had the unexpected added pressure from a local pharmacy having to temporarily close down for logistics reasons during start of COVID and family, staff and students and local members of the public all stepped up to the plate and we did a fantastic job.
“The collective mentality of a village gave us the support and strength to successfully face the unexpected surge in demand and, without locals coming together, I can’t begin to imagine how Nories Pharmacy would have coped.
“I would like to thank those who have volunteered to provide home deliveries for self-isolating, vulnerable patients. We have had our patients baking cakes and bringing in chocolates to thank us and it all helps to cheer us up.”
Nories Pharmacy, Horsham, Sussex. Shailesh Amin.
“One Saturday night I stayed at work until 1am but on my way home had a car accident. We don’t usually open on Sunday but we had decided to open that day from 10 till 2. I told a local Facebook group that I had a car accident but the pharmacy would still be open. I live about 20 miles from the pharmacy and received dozens of messages. Twenty people offered me the use of their cars and a further 20 offered to come and pick me up. In the end I got a taxi to work on the Sunday but I was really touched by the offers”.
Great Berry Pharmacy, Basildon, Essex. Rajiv Sharma.
“Pupils at Chatham and Clarendon Grammar School in Ramsgate had been making visors for NHS staff including 900 for pharmacy staff. The visors are completely free of charge but cost £1 each to make. To show their appreciation, pharmacies were asked to donate to the school’s Go Fund Me page. This offers us an extra bit of safety, a sense of security for staff. Pharmacy staff can socially distance from customers but not always from each other. The community generously and creatively found a solution.”
Hodgson Pharmacy, Longfield, Kent. Amish Patel.
“Through my local contacts in the Bedminster community, I was invited to join the steering committee of our local BS3 Covid-19 Mutual aid Facebook Group of volunteers keen to help during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Mel, who set up the running group (www.thismumruns.co.uk) had signed up to the call for volunteers to support the community and after explaining my concern about pharmacies becoming overwhelmed and possible delays to deliveries undermining care.
“We were tasked by the group to come up with a solution for our own needs and the wider NHS.
“The pharmacies asking for help from the service had found it increasingly difficult to cope with the rise in prescriptions requiring to be delivered during the lockdown period. Similarly, the social distancing guidelines had prevented the running club from organising their bi-weekly social runs.
“Learning that local community pharmacies were overstretched, members of the group quickly offered to help Bedminster Pharmacy and set up the so-called ‘drug run deliveries’. The idea has also been adopted into an Oxford scheme using cycling clubs Sports England shared details as a case study to encourage more such innovative working.
“The service is co-ordinated and managed by the pharmacy teams. When medicines are to be delivered, the pharmacy contacts the running group electronically and a delivery is organised. The medicines are then delivered by the running group. All the processes and checks are established by the pharmacies taking part in the service. The delivery runner is required to check-in with the pharmacy at the end of their delivery. I co-designed with Mel an extensive operating protocol.
“The medicines are delivered to the patients who are self-isolating. It provides welcome social contact for the shielded patients, creating a really positive human experience to combat the social isolation and loneliness experienced by these patients during the lockdown period.
“The service is allowing the running club to keep running and serve the community at the same time. The club volunteers also started writing letters and notes to patients to encourage them. The partnership has being championed by the Jo Cox Foundation for its social impact.
“The key to this successful use of a local partnership is that Bedminster Pharmacy was already viewed as a local NHS outpost – a treasured asset. The community health and wellbeing hub – central to the local co-ordination of care and response to varying health and social needs before and during the pandemic. The management of the delivery needs is just a spin-off from that intrinsic role.
“Being really clear with the patients and volunteers on expectations, procedures and putting in clearly-defined processes, has made the service work safely and efficiently.”
Bedminster Pharmacy, Bristol. Ade Williams.
“The team have been delivering to patients who are self-isolating at home. As well as prescriptions they have delivered pharmacy items including paracetamol and thermometers to those who need them.
“Early on in the crisis when the mass of prescriptions descended on the team, my husband was delivering prescriptions with the children in the back of the car as they had no one else to look after them.
“I rallied together a group of three volunteers through a friend and they were ready the very next day to start deliveries. They have been amazing and taken the load off the pharmacy team.”
Caxton Pharmacy, Bromley, Kent. Reshma Amir.
“When food had gone short in many shops, I made frequent trips to supermarkets and was not able to obtain basic items such as fruit, veg, flour sugar, frozen food, etc.
“I was talking about this with one of my customers who is caring for relatives and doing her chores. She said there were some small stores that still had food.
“I explained that, because of the long hours worked at the pharmacy, they are closed before the team finishes each day. The customer came back a few hours later with a bag of potatoes. She would not even accept any money for it. The customer told the team to accept it which we gratefully did.”
Dave Pharmacy, Rickmansworth, Herts. Nisha Dave.
“The vast majority [of patients] were magnificent, showing patience and understanding and we were inundated with offers of support from filling shelves to delivering medicines.
“We were receiving hundreds of emails, thank-you notes, chocolates, biscuits and snacks. This really kept us going and lifted our spirits.
Central Pharmacy, Cardiff. Raj Aggarwal.
“Inspired by the TikTok sensation, we did a five-minute dance video [with colleagues Gabrielle Workman and Julie Goldie] in our PPE. We thought it would be a good idea to boost morale and community spirit during the pandemic and raise awareness of staying safe. We had a lot of positive feedback on Facebook and the local paper did an article on us.”
Lloyd’s Pharmacy, West Kilbride. Rebeckah McGrath.
“At first when it all hit, everyone was struggling for PPE. We put out a notification for the community if they had anything for the branch. We had lots of donations from people and businesses. A dental surgery gave us masks and gloves. One lady hand-made rainbow masks especially. The company has also been amazing with face masks and visors, as well the screen protector for counter staff, ensuring us and our customers stay safe.”
Well Pharmacy, Long Stratton, Suffolk. Becky Whitesides.
“It was the end of the day and I was putting the rubbish out and this lovely little kid was in a car with his folks. He stopped me and said how important the work we’re doing is and he wanted to thank us for what we are doing. He left us some Pringles and boxes of sweets. He was thanking us and the ambulance station, which is next door. It was just nice to get that kind of reaction.”
Cambrian Pharmacy, Oswestry. Alain Weir.
INNOVATING AND RESPONDING TO CHANGE
Faced with unprecedented challenges, pharmacies sought creative and innovative solutions, to keep services going and meet people’s rapidly changing needs.
“Ensuring that patients have access to the medicines they need has been critical – and this can be supported through services such as Electronic Repeat Dispensing – and pharmacies have had to find new ways of working to cope with increased demand for medicines and advice.
“In recent years I have invested in a bigger team, a multi-workstation dispensary, and a range of clinical services including making remote GP appointments available to patients from my pharmacy.
“Aware that the pandemic was coming, the pharmacy draw up a continuity plan with other local pharmacies and GP surgeries in case any of them had to close down. We had to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We couldn’t leave people behind.”
Market Chemist, Marylebone. Shiraz Mohamed.
“One day we got to work to find the large surgery opposite shuttered and closed. We were told that the surgery team had become infected with Coronavirus.
“We found ourselves under siege from patients and carers seeking medical advice and worried about their prescriptions. We contacted the local NHS England team and eventually a ‘hot hub’ was set up and they started to write prescriptions for the surgery’s patients. We made contact with them and acted as a point of liaison.
“They did not have EPS facilities so, twice a day, our drivers went to the hub, dropped off patients’ prescription requests and picked up physical prescriptions which we dispensed and (upon request) delivered.
“Our phone-lines were log-jammed so we set up a WhatsApp facility on our website. We kept everyone up-to-date with developments via Facebook and our website. We also installed an answer phone and promised that any out-of-hours messages would be returned in the afternoon. We dedicated a member of staff to communication and responded to literally hundreds of messages. Not one person was left without a response.
“I’m extremely proud of how my team responded in incredibly difficult circumstances. But we feel we’ve been abandoned on the NHS frontline.”
Newington Pharmacy, Ramsgate. Graham Phillips.
“We rose to the challenge during the pandemic and did not compromise on our hours – the team worked hard. We also needed to think on our feet.
“We set up a service to help deliver medicines to self-isolating patients by putting a request out on WhatsApp for volunteers who attended training sessions.
“We helped many patients through NHS 111 and the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service. We set up a tracker for dental referrals from NHS 111.
“NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens heard about what we were doing and visited our pharmacy. I showed him how we were helping our customers and patients get their medications during the pandemic.”
Pavilion Pharmacy, Brixton, Martin Uhelak.
“We started using the Pro Delivery Manager app a couple of months ago to deliver to shielded patients and we have found that it has worked very well. It is quite a simple and effective system and has helped to relieve our workload, which went through the roof in March and April. In Tenby there are a large number of our patients who are over 65, so a lot have needed to shield during the last few months. Deliveries here have been chock-a-block and PDM helps ensure that deliveries are made efficiently and safely. It’s been good that we’ve been able to help some of the most vulnerable people in Wales by the targeted use of technology.”
Evans Pharmacy. Tenby, Wales. Joel Garden.
MORE STORIES FROM THE NHS FRONTLINE
There are so many stories to tell about what pharmacy teams have done during this crisis. No doubt there will be many more to come.
“I’ve been a community pharmacist for 35 years now but in the last four months I think I have seen the most intense stressful times that I have ever experienced but at the same time I have seen some of the most uplifting stuff that I could ever imagine. I think I have learned more in this short period than maybe I have done in the last ten years.
“We did deal with a lot of panic-stricken public but at the same time our first priority was how to reassure the staff because we had abusive customers at the door trying to access paracetamol because it became like gold dust.
“There were some services that we had no choice except to continue and which was going to involve very close contact. One of these was the Buvidal pilot.
“So last year my pharmacy and I piloted the first NHS UK pilot for the administration of the buprenorphine injection for opioid substitution treatment.
“We were very pleased to be initiating such a pilot and in my borough there was only my locum and I that actually provided it. So as a result there was no way we could actually halt the service so we needed to continue, so we had to come up with instant SOPs on how to do the injection, come up with ways of how we were going to protect ourselves as well as the clients, giving out masks and putting on full PPE.
“But we created those SOPs and we continue to do that and actually got through it quite successfully.
“Many pharmacies were working together, not only on sharing stock but in sharing experience, helping each other, trying to reduce each other’s anxiety, and the fantastic thing was that we all put our patients above profit and competition.”
P&S Chemist, Ilford. Shaheen Bhatia.
“I think one of the bigger frustrations for me is looking at my WhatsApp groups and seeing a lot of my ‘mum friends’ who are at home enjoying quality time with their children while their children are away from school. I haven’t seen my children for two weeks and as a key worker I’m doing this, I’m putting all the effort in, working really, really hard.
“My team have been absolutely incredible. I keep saying to them ‘have a break, sit down, just rest’ they say ‘no, we can do this, we’re OK, we can keep going’. We’ve had some lovely people come in and say thank you to us, which has just made our day.
“I had some of my local GPs ring and say ‘we know you’re working really hard, thank you so much’ which has just been so heart-warming, but again the pharmacy sector can only take so much and we really, really need help with all of this.”
S. G. Barai, Sutton. Reena Barai.
“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have had half our team off work (they have been shielding themselves from the virus). This has proved to be a challenging time for us, however, with sheer teamwork and determination we have got through the last few months, without compromising on customer service.
“A former retired team member aged 69 (who had only been retired for three months) kindly agreed to help us during the pandemic and her return and assistance has been invaluable. I believe that our team has done a fantastic job during these unprecedented times and deserve recognition for our efforts.”
Westcliff Pharmacy, Scunthorpe. Kiran Dhinsa.
“I don’t know how my staff made it through this period as they were working so hard – for extended periods, they were up there with the doctors and nurses as the frontline heroes of this crisis.
“They were working under very difficult conditions, tired to the point of exhaustion, scared about their own chances of becoming infected – yet they came in every day because they cared about their patients.
“The doctors, pharmacists and staff from our two local surgeries pulled together as a team during this time. They let us substitute medicines which were unavailable and regularly called to support us.
“We were kept updated by the health board with daily bulletins and the testing processes for our staff. When one of my managers felt unwell, the health board arranged for her to be tested immediately. Thankfully the result was negative and she came back to work a day later.
“Even our pharmacy inspector rang up to check how we were coping and if we needed any support or advice – an amazing feeling of co-operation during a terrible time.”
Central Pharmacy, Cardiff. Raj Aggarwal.
“We gave free packs of protective gear to frontline NHS staff and other key workers. We wanted to thank key workers and help address shortages. We made up bags containing rubber gloves, masks, shields, hand gel, etc, to help people stay safe while carrying out essential work.
“So if people who work for the NHS or in a care home did not get them at work, we’d hand them out. They needed to show us proof of where they work or a badge. There was a lot of demand, more than we thought. We just wanted to do something to say thanks.
“Also – for older people who had bought masks but their spectacles steamed up – we gave them free face shields. This is a nice village pharmacy and we’re happy to help.
“The reaction was great and people would give us ice cream and biscuits.”
Blackburn Pharmacy, Aberdeen. Alison Webster.
“There’s a group of people, two million shielded patients, clinically vulnerable. We really looked after them, same-day deliveries, delivering vegetables, food, consumerables.
“The second group that comes to mind are in my pharmacies over in Liverpool where we’ve got a large group of opioid dependents and these people on methadone programmes. Normally they get supervised consumption. So you’d come in every day, you’d take your medicine but obviously with social distancing we couldn’t do that. So we supplied it in pre-measured bottles – seven days, 14 days – and that prevented a lot of potential problems.”
Strachan’s Chemists, North West. Ian Strachan.
“I’m in a particularly rural setting, we’re in a small village a long way from anywhere really, we’re quite remote, and the number of people who say to me ‘we couldn’t manage without you, we couldn’t get along without you, if you weren’t here I don’t know what we’d do’ and it’s a frequent refrain. Almost every day we hear similar to that. So our community sees us as a very important asset and I know that’s similar for my colleagues in the other villages in the slightly wider area because I talk to them frequently.”
Collins and Butterworth, Cumbria. Simon Butterworth.
“I’ve seen people coming in, especially at the start of it, I mean I’d never seen these people before. They know to come to the pharmacy because they just want some help and advice. Very quickly the doctors locked down, credit to them, they very quickly went on to the video conferencing but it is not for everybody. You can’t see skin rashes and certain things, lumps and bumps.”
Prescription Service Pharmacy, Knutsford, Cheshire. Lee Williams.
“Community pharmacies have queues of people coming in like never before. We are dealing with a whole range of clinical needs that, prior to this, many people would never have expected we would be able to handle.
“But I also kept thinking, how do I sustain the care so desperately needed, with our broken funding model, how do I support our tired and worried team members who are doing extra and having to work in a different way? How do we juggle struggling to source and pay exorbitant prices for the PPE that we are sometimes having to find from new unfamiliar sources online?”
Bedminster Pharmacy, Bristol. Ade Williams.