‘Pharmacies deserve support after pandemic pressure’


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.
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.

By Mark Lyonette
Chief Executive
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.