By Nigel Swift
What a time to start a new job!
When I made the decision to join Well, I was thinking of a structured timely induction, some time to get to know the colleagues and the strategy, and a bit of time to plan for the future. But little did I realise it would be the most unusual, busy, difficult, challenging and humbling time that I’ve ever experienced in my 20 years in pharmacy.
What was evident was how adaptable pharmacy has been to react at pace to support local communities and their immediate needs. What they needed was reassurance, familiar colleagues with sound advice and a safe place to be.
They wanted reassurance that they can still get their vital medication – either picking it up safely or having it delivered if they were vulnerable or isolated so they could stay safe at home if there were no other options. And, of course, reassurance that they can continue to get the advice and support they expect from their community pharmacy.
At times of crisis it’s easy to just do what’s right and needed there and then. But it has also presented a fantastic opportunity to develop new processes, consider and implement different ways of working and seek out new opportunities.
If I think back to the days BC – before COVID – community pharmacy was shifting towards a bigger role as part of the local healthcare solution. ‘Think pharmacy first’ was a common message, and the NHS 111 service was starting to direct patients to their local pharmacy team where suitable.
The pandemic has shone a light on the importance and value of community pharmacy, and this creates a brilliant opportunity to strengthen that position over the coming months, accelerating what was already happening pre-Covid. We shouldn’t forget that community pharmacy has remained ‘open for business’ during this challenging time and everyone should feel really proud.
In the short term, with COVID-19 testing and, in the imminent future, antibody testing critical to how we progress safely through this pandemic and relax the lockdown restrictions, community pharmacy has a unique chance to support by providing wide-spread and easy access to these services.
Of course, pharmacy also needs to consider how to re-introduce existing services in a world of social distancing so that we can continue to help patients living with long-term conditions and offer preventative services to stop patients becoming unwell.
We need to think creatively so that our patients continue to benefit from the value that these services bring to their health and wellbeing. Online appointment booking systems and video consultations will make sure our patients can access the help and support they need.
The use of Pharmacist prescribers will help us provide a fully integrated end to end service which has to be a great patient experience and will really help reduce pressure on other parts of the NHS.
Patient behaviour has changed, and we shouldn’t expect it will return to what it was pre-Covid anytime soon, or potentially ever. We have seen huge drops in GP and A&E attendance during the peak of the pandemic.
GP Practices have adapted to less face to face consultations through use of different technologies and what is obvious is that the crisis has accelerated the use of digital technology in all parts of our lives. Pharmacy’s been no exception.
Like it or not, the digital world is one that community pharmacy is simply going to have to accept and adapt to. As a business we’ve had to react quickly to support the growth seen in our online pharmacy business. And it took just a couple of weeks to recognise the customer demand that necessitated the rapid development of our online shop. It’s that sort of reaction to patient and customer need that we’re going to have to get used to and be ready for.
Giving our patients and customers choices will be key. That might be ordering their prescription or OTC lines via an App, with the choice of home delivery or collection in a pharmacy.
Similarly, we can use digital platforms to improve the experience our patients receive on services – both in terms of registering for or booking on to these services and considering online consultations rather than face to face. As a business we have a fantastic potential in these areas which is truly exciting.
I’m so glad to have joined Well where we are ready to react to these challenges and seize new opportunities.
The future for us, and community pharmacy, is exciting. And in a strange way, if this crisis has shown us one thing, it’s that we can do anything. But then again, that shouldn’t be surprising to any of us should it… after all, we’re a profession made up of superheroes!