Julian Mount reflects on the remarkable way community pharmacy teams have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic…

Together with community pharmacy, we are the backbone to the NHS and Alliance Healthcare UK supplies one in every three medicines taken in the UK.

We knew we had to do everything possible to ensure medicine supply for UK patients; we certainly embraced the challenge and supported the incredible efforts of community pharmacy, the frontline heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.

We decided not to furlough our field-based teams to allow us to maintain essential contact with community pharmacy and continue our support. I feel the Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened our already robust relationship and together we have stood shoulder to shoulder with community pharmacy throughout the pandemic, when other healthcare professions closed their doors.

Investing in technology

We responded instantly to the challenge, communicating straightaway with our customers, suppliers and colleagues. We remained fully operational throughout, maintaining twice-day delivery, repurposing staff, as we continued our customer-facing service.

We invested in our digital capabilities – such as the Alliance Healthcare Portal, to make doing business with us easier and to help pharmacies save valuable time.

In fact, user numbers have doubled to more than 13,000 registered customers and 7,000 unique daily users, that’s a huge number of healthcare professionals that we are directly helping.

We’re continuing to add new and exciting functionality to the Alliance Healthcare Portal and are keeping our customers informed with regular communications on our latest news and service updates.

And it wasn’t just our wholesale arm that has taken on the challenge; Alphega Pharmacy has supported its 1,022 members with:

  • Premises-More than 500 Sneeze Screens in place and over 30,000 pieces of social distancing material produced and sent to members
  • Governance – SOPs reviewed and updated (e.g. taking in Rx, pandemic delivery service); number of support checklist written to free-up pharmacy teams’ time to focus on patients, and the launch of our Covid-19 hub with resources and toolkits for members
  • Staff – Over 3,000 face visors allocated to members; more than 800 digital tablets for members unlocked to allow them to carry out remote patient consultations. NHS key worker ID’s sourced and provided to members.

I am also very proud of our sponsorship with Pharmacist Support’s ACTNow campaign to champion mental health awareness and wellbeing.

I encourage all pharmacists to visit the charity’s wellbeing hub and register for the resources it has available free of charge. It was the least we could do.

Partner of choice

As the UK tries to cautiously return to some normality, Alliance Healthcare’s commitment to support community pharmacies continues to evolve. The demands from the NHS and patients will change and we need to collectively respond.

We are already planning for the post Covid-19 environment and expect to see a continued shift in tele-medicine, Rx services, automated remote dispensing and digital demands.

If GPs continue with remote consultations, I believe community pharmacy will become the go-to healthcare community hub, and I feel needs to fully embrace this opportunity.

Pharmacy already has the skills, expertise and will to support patients in the local community: healthy lifestyle advice, signposting, minor ailments etc. I believe needs to get properly rewarded and remunerated in its essential community role.

Alphega leading the way

It may be an age old saying but it still rings true today, with every challenge an opportunity is created. It’s something I remind my teams daily and our Alphega Pharmacy experts have been working hard to support their members adapt to the new world.

Raj Nutan, head of Alphega Pharmacy, and his team are encouraging members to advocate health services locally – working together with other providers of physical and mental health care – to support patients with on-going health support that rehabilitates them both physically and mentally.

It is also supporting its members with networking strategies for PCNs, LPCs, LHBs, PCOs at a local level to ensure they interact with local community health services (e.g. CAMS, Physio, DNs etc).

These uncertain times have certainly taught us the need to work collaboratively together on a local scale, and community pharmacy must have a place at the table in these pivotal conversations.

Working together

The last six months have been without a doubt the most testing many of us will have experienced both professionally and personally. There is still so much to do to ensure community pharmacy gets the recognition and remuneration it deserves, but I am optimistic that things are heading in the right direction and Alliance Healthcare stands ready to support community pharmacy every step of the way in this new world.

Julian Mount is managing director at Alliance Healthcare UK.

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