“The pandemic may have put our skills to the test – but it has also allowed pharmacists to show their true potential”

Reshma Malde, Superintendent Pharmacist at John Bell & Croyden, shares her thoughts on why COVID-19, despite being a huge challenge, has revolutionised the role of the pharmacist.

I’ve been a qualified pharmacist now for 20 years. During this time, I’ve worked in a variety of pharmacy settings, and I’ve been with John Bell & Croyden for the last ten years. My role as Superintendent is making sure that the clinical governance and standards within our pharmacy are absolutely appropriate for the customers that come in to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Needless to say, the pandemic has brought a number of different challenges to this. All across the UK, pharmacists have seen a tremendous increase in demand for their services during the last 10 months as patients struggled to access other healthcare providers, such as GPs, dentists and hospitals. With consultations limited across the board, lots of us have had to rely on visiting the pharmacy for non-Covid related medical advice.

In response, pharmacists have had to introduce a number of new measures in-store and think carefully about how to keep our staff and customers safe. This has been particularly hard given the rate at which the rules were changing. But despite being a huge challenge, and testing us on a daily basis, the pandemic has also created new opportunities and revolutionised pharmacy practice in some truly unique ways. It has absolutely shaped how pharmacies will mould themselves going forward, not just in the way we trade but the way we interact with and look after our customers.

For example, we’ve had to offer far greater breadth in the way we communicate to our customers. Due to Covid restrictions we’ve have had to think differently about what consultations look like, now and in future, and as the world modernises and we use more and more tech, we’ve very much had to move with the times.

This has meant introducing telephone and video consultations, and even where we wouldn’t have normally done it, home deliveries and taking that opportunity to check in with customers. Offering consultations virtually has given us a new way to continue to safely reach out to these customers, including those at higher risk or shielding and therefore unable to visit in person.

Meanwhile, within our own stores we also had to look at how to make the experience safe so that when patients and customers were coming in, they weren’t feeling concerned that they shouldn’t be in this environment. This has meant implementing a number of new measures in terms of adequate signage, single flow systems, sanitising areas, as well as equipping our crew with adequate PPE so they could protect themselves and our customers.

When it comes down to it, however, one of the most important ways in which the role of the pharmacy has changed during COVID-19 is how we’ve not just adapted but extended our services. All across the country we’ve seen pharmacists introduce amazing new services in a short space of time, such as drive-thru so people could still access their medicines safely. . One of the most valuable developments has been the way pharmacists have branched out to learn so many new skills to support our customer base. Testing has been one of those critical areas.

Just one example is offering fit to fly services so a pharmacist can, through a simple swab, allow a patient or customer to prove they are Covid-free to access flights abroad. At John Bell & Croyden, customers have also been able to access same day and next day testing, which has been hugely popular. As more Covid tests have been available in store, we’ve found a huge increase in the number of people coming in to access these.

And today, life-saving coronavirus vaccinations are being administered by hundreds of community pharmacists. This is amazing progress. Community pharmacies have already been providing NHS flu vaccinations in England and Wales, so are well trained for this, and it’s certainly reassuring that our medical expertise is being put to use and our role within primary care and as frontline workers is recognised at this time of crisis.

Within our own pharmacy, we will be vaccinating approximately 1000 patients per week; we’ve already adapted our services, introduced a number of new safety measures and will continue to do the best we can to offer our help where we can. In fact, all across the country, pharmacists have shown brilliant resilience and dedication and shown they can step up, so getting the green light to be part of this important rollout and provide such a vital service to our local community – and support the NHS – is a true recognition of our wider role within care in providing essential services to those who need it.

Pharmacists have always been the most accessible healthcare provider and at a time of stretched resources have shown we can help to support the efficiency of our healthcare system, be it through testing, increasing access to medicine, or vaccination. Pharmacists have continued to work though pandemic and have taken on more responsibilities during covid-19. In this way, the pandemic may have put our skills to the test – but it has also allowed pharmacists to show their true potential and allowed customers to find the real value of the pharmacist, who (apart from prescriptions) exist as a crucial entity capable of addressing their health needs, scares and concerns. It’s been amazing to see this progress.