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Challenges Pharmacists and Pharmacies are facing during Covid-19

Challenges Pharmacies/ Pharmacists are currently facing during COVID 19

Covid19 and the current pandemic have changed the lives of everyone. In community pharmacy in particular, pharmacy staff have had to adapt quickly and efficiently to maintain providing high- quality service to the public. Pharmacists are on the frontline of this pandemic and need to be accredited for work they have done and help in continuing to cope mentally and physically
through this difficult time.

1. Pharmacy footfall

To enforce social distancing, pharmacies have had to limit the number of customers in the pharmacy. Depending on the pharmacy size, there may be only 1-2 people allowed in at the one time, or some pharmacies may have parts of their pharmacy completely blocked off.

Impact on pharmacies:
- With shopping centres closed many pharmacies that are still open have a huge drop in footfall and have reduced their opening hours. This results in an overall loss in the sales of both prescription and non prescription items.
- Fewer people are shopping around or even avoid entering a pharmacy when there is a queue and restrictions in place. This has already shown to have decreased profits in pharmacies.
- Opening hours have also been reduced and some pharmacies have had to rotate staff and reduce hours. This has even led to temporarily letting go of some employees.

Impact on pharmacists:
- With most shopping centres shut down several pharmacies in local areas are dealing with more customers. This, alongside social distancing, means throughout the day there is always a never ending queue. This is a huge stress factor for most pharmacists.
- Stockpiling of products for the first few weeks of COVID19 was also a huge issue, as well as a shortage of some medicines. This caused frustration in both customers and staff.
- Pharmacies located in areas with nowhere open for lunch also means pharmacists must always prepare lunch in advance.
- Public transport has also changed commuting times so pharmacists must plan their work trip in advance to make sure they are on time.

2. Home delivery
With many patients unable to reach their pharmacy or cocooning many pharmacies have put a delivery service in place.

Impact on pharmacies
- Many pharmacies have adapted to this very well, with some even considering doing it after COVID19.
- Less pharmacy staff needed, which means cutting costs.
- Loss of OTC products being bought within the store.
- Cost of delivery and access to resources.

Impact for Pharmacists
- Some pharmacies are only operating a delivery service and have no in-store pick up option, this means a reduction in staff hours or temporarily lay offs for some employees, this may continue into the future and as a result, many pharmacists are worried.
- Less pressure and stress when operating this way
- Some stores are now closing for lunch which can give pharmacists a break and they are allowed to leave the store
- Less consulting
- More time spent on organising addresses and communicating via the

3. Communication

Impact on Pharmacies / Pharmacists

- Pharmacists can now receive prescriptions via Healthmail from the doctor, however, your store must have a fax machine in order for them to send it there.
- OTC products for most pharmacies can now be ordered online
- Extensions on repeat prescriptions can also be authorised by pharmacists

- Increased time spent on calls, as customers must pay over the phone

- Less time consulting patients can be disheartening for some pharmacy staff, it's also very hard to communicate and show any understanding through face masks.

-Great attention to detail is required at every moment during the working


- There is an overall increase in phone calls from customers. A good proportion of the increase in phone calls are a result of people phoning ahead with their prescriptions to pick up at a later date. This takes the pressure and demand off pharmacies and is very much appreciated.

- One main struggle for a vast amount of pharmacists is ensuring the staff are kept safe. Many times staff must communicate to customers that they are not allowed in the store if a max number of people are already present. Or not allowed past a certain point. This has proven to be very stressful and difficult to do when there are half the pharmacy staff in
store, most of which are behind the dispensary.
- Customer wait times have also been impacted and most pharmacies have asked to place your script in 3-24h before collection.

4. Cutbacks
For many years, although community pharmacists have not been on the shortage list, it was the reality that community pharmacists were hard to find, be it for locum or permanent work.

Impact on pharmacists
- The availability of pharmacists has increased; many working in industry or other sectors are still on the PSI are looking to get back into community pharmacy.
- PSI (Section 77) states that pharmacists gone from the register can re-register without fees
- However anyone with no Irish pharmacy experience or none in recent years are finding it very hard to get training, even pharmacists who qualified in the UK are finding it difficult to get roles and training
- Locum work has reduced leaving many pharmacists without work
- More pharmacists available and applying to roles meaning bigger competition
- Less permanent roles available and a lot on hold
- Salaries have now started to plateau and have even decreased in some areas
- With less working hours some pharmacists are put under a huge amount of pressure to complete the same amount of work but in a shorter time frame

Impact on pharmacies

- Pharmacies have been utilising the staff members they already have in
order to cover any holidays or days off which have lowered the cost of hiring a locum
- With retail hours cut many pharmacies have had to reduce salaries and hours of staff, some implementing a week on week off rota
- A lot of government help is in place and pharmacies who have decreased sales by 25% are allowed to apply for help from Revenue to pay staff
- Some pharmacies have reduced salaries and are offering lower rates to locum pharmacists

Covid19 has transformed the way pharmacists manage medicines and how pharmacies operate. Many pharmacies have had to adapt to going digital. Some stores have suffered from not already being online. However, the main question that arises is will these changes stick? Online consultations, paperless prescribing, and much more. The uncertainty of the future is on everyone's mind. People are struggling throughout the healthcare industry and across others as well. However we must remember pharmacists are on the frontline too.

We are in this together, and hopefully this insight is something that you can relate to. The road has just begun, and we need to stick together to face the changes ahead!

Remember you are not alone, and if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed like a lot of pharmacists I have spoken to then try some of the below coping mechanisms.

IPU Covid -19 Resources (guidelines, regulations, checklist and more)- More here

Zoom Yoga - Led by a fully qualified yoga instructor and pharmacist - More here

Body Scan: Anxiety Management - More here 

Self Care - More Here

Essential Services Guide for Locums - More here

Mind the Frontline - A mental health resource for all  healthcare workers  - More here

Posted on 05 June 2020 by Claire Timmon & Ashley Simpson
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