By Mark Lyonette
National Pharmacy Association (NPA)
ONE of the striking features of coronavirus is the disproportionate impact it has had on black and minority ethnic groups.
Many pharmacies in the UK are owned and operated by British Asians, and an estimated 43 per cent of pharmacy staff are from a BAME community.
Pharmacy teams across the UK have been working hard on the NHS frontline to keep regular services going, while also meeting vastly increased demand because of coronavirus. Many high street shops opened last month for the first time since lockdown – but as an essential health service, pharmacies have been open throughout.
They continue to treat minor illnesses, help people to manage long-term medical conditions, supply medicines and provide urgent care.
At least 62 per cent of people have visited a pharmacy during the lockdown and 250 million prescriptions have been dispensed.
When health secretary Matt Hancock visited Shiraz Mohamed, the owner of Market Chemist in London recently, he was suitably impressed by the way that pharmacists have been working as part of the NHS team to ensure continuity of services and absorb pressure that would otherwise have fallen on GPs and hospitals.
As a sector, we are acutely aware of the duty of care owed both to pharmacy staff and patients. It was a travesty in the early days of the coronavirus crisis in this country that protective equipment such as gloves and surgical grade masks was not available to pharmacy teams.
Another growing concern is the state of the sector’s finances. We need more support from the government to help meet the huge extra costs of staffing, medicines, protective gear and home deliveries.
The health secretary and even the prime minister, Boris Johnson, have praised pharmacies for what they have done during this pandemic. We now need the chancellor – himself the son of a pharmacist – to make good on the government’s commitments to repay the additional costs pharmacies have incurred as they kept their doors open and saved lives.
It’s a very real possibility that many pharmacies will go bankrupt if this doesn’t happen soon. In fact, there have already been a number of closures and we worry about this reaching a tipping point.
That would be tragic for the communities losing out on vital NHS services and deeply unfair to the hard-working pharmacy professionals who have stepped up during this crisis.
Looking to the next phase of the country’s response to the pandemic, pharmacies could be key to unlocking mass testing and helping to ease Britain back into normal life. We would also expect pharmacists to administer coronavirus vaccinations, should one eventually emerge.
Even before then, pharmacies could play a vital role in making up the healthcare deficit caused by coronavirus. There’s a huge backlog of interventions such as asthma check-ups and diabetes reviews, which can be cleared more efficiently if pharmacies are deployed to help.
Covid-19 has taught us stark lessons and we must learn from them as we consider how health services, including pharmacy services, may be delivered differently in the future. New consumer research by the NPA shows that eight in 10 people think pharmacists have responded well to the pandemic. Impressed by what they have seen, they now want to see pharmacies expand their service offering, well beyond the supply of medicines.
An intriguing finding is that, despite the increased use of technology and remote delivery of care during the pandemic, the vast majority of people still regard face-to-face contact with their pharmacist as important. We must never forget the human touch in healthcare.