'New normal during the coronavirus crisis may shape the way we think about providing our services and care going forward'

By Bernadette Brown

Health and well-being of the team is the most important aspect of surviving during these very challenging times as this pandemic has already had lasting effects on us all – both mentally and physically. The toll on our health and demand on our bodies could not have been foreseen.

The psychological fear of being on the frontline has led my team to believe they are frontline warriors in a very dangerous battle, and we need to maintain our strategy of staying alive during these hard times. One of the lessons I learned very quickly when I became the owner of a pharmacy is that there are many parameters that are aspects of my world that I cannot change.

Procurement

The way we have to procure medicines is one of the hardest aspects I had to come to terms with and am still struggling to truly understand. This battle of getting vital medicines for the NHS and the public we serve is getting harder and costing more every day.

Worrying about how the bills will be paid and trying to keep up with supply issues and margins is very difficult and particularly challenging at this time.

Community Pharmacy Scotland are supporting by getting monies up front, but I am still concerned about the margins drop and it is too early for me to truly understand the impact.

Breathing space

We were given a lifeline by government to have fewer public facing opening hours during lockdown. We use the first half an hour every day, no matter what the workload, for a breathing space. Our team call it ‘Cadham Campfire’. We get a cuppa and sit in a circle to breathe, reflect and come up with that day’s battle plan.

My team values this immensely and I get the chance to update them on the latest information and requests coming in about the new ways of working.

‘We get a cuppa and sit in a circle to breathe, reflect and come up with that day’s battle plan’

Minor illness

It is only now that we feel this new way of working is supporting the whole community as we have recently managed to add in telephone and video link consultations with our pharmacist and independent prescriber. We have seen a big increase in demand for this and I think this will continue over the coming weeks and months now that we have built in capacity and new ways of working to access this invaluable role we play in the community.

NHS communications

I have been communicating via the generic business email and this has been a new lifeline to support us in managing the work as well as helping me get information easily from all the GP practices.

It was an initial struggle to find better ways of working with all practices but a simple request of making sure very urgent requests are emailed or the paper copies marked urgent with a mobile phone number or delivery written on it and supplied to us in a separate envelope has allowed us to see easily this workload and prioritise it to support our patients get their medicines as soon as humanly possible.

We have also been very happy to receive an NHS mobile phone and this has been a lifeline for primary care professionals wanting to contact us urgently as our phone lines were jammed with the public asking ‘where is my prescription?’ all the time.

Messaging

In a digital world where many families use a mobile phone or have an iPad, our team now have a member of staff dedicated to responding to the messages eight hours a day and answering the phones daily for four hours. This is a huge change in our working practice as they do not dispense at all when they are at this workstation and we have given them a dedicated office to work from.

The public are liking this and now our telephone workload has massively decreased, and this is also supporting the environment for less noise and a calmer way of dealing with prescription concerns, minor ailments requests and requests to buy medicines.

Furthermore, we have used social media as well as mass messaging to get over the key messages on a frequent basis to try and protect the team daily. This has been working and we are grateful to everyone in our community who have been listening and helping us find new and better ways of engaging with each other to stay safe and survive.

Protective kit

We, like many others, did not receive PPE on time and so we took a brave decision very early on not to allow the public just to walk into the pharmacy. I managed to buy privately masks and gloves and hand sanitisers.

Extra staffing

This is a worry as in order to get through the workload in the initial weeks, we had huge increases in staff bills. My team decided that for the sake of our health and well-being we would operate shift work, and this really supported us to cope with the added stress and workload. We try to still finish at 6pm but we have a team in early from 7am some days to help us manage the workflow and start the day positively.

My team are feeling more able to cope with these new ways of working and whilst in lockdown we aim to continue cementing in these new standard operating procedures to maintain public and staff safety. The few changes we have made have meant that our new normal during the coronavirus crisis may in fact shape the way we think about providing our services and care going forward.

Bernadette Brown owns and manages Cadham Pharmacy in Fife.

This article also appears in the May issue of Pharmacy Business magazine.

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