The Covid-19 pandemic has hit many pharmacies and the sector as a whole hard. Dr Nik Kotecha takes a look at their often unrecognised contribution and the role they will play in the nation’s eventual recovery from Covid-19 and a possible no-deal Brexit.
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic pharmacists were on the frontline, ensuring patients were able to get the medicines they needed, as the country went into full lockdown.
As a key manufacturer and supplier of medicines to the NHS (pharmacies and hospitals), my business felt the huge pressure the sector was under, as patients were prescribed several months’ supply of their medication around March and April.
The significantly increased demand came at a time when we were only able to have half of the employees onsite with the other half working remotely due to social distancing measures, which thanks to our dedicated and hard-working employees led to minimal interruption to supply. Disruption, which looks set to impact the sector further, as more local lockdowns are enforced and the second wave of Covid-19 becomes more sustained.
For many pharmacists the same was true and it’s quite clear that they were one of many unsung heroes of the lockdown period. However, after the initial surge in demand, it is also clear that many community pharmacists have faced hugely challenging times because they were legally obliged to remain open, as people shunned towns and cities, even after the initial lockdown restrictions were lifted.
This has led to calls for more funding for the sector because many face the real prospect of closure. This despite the great debt which the country owes them, as well as other healthcare workers, for helping us all weather the initial Covid-19 storm.
As a key supplier to pharmacies we are all too aware that pharmacists are on the frontline and continue to play an essential role, and have been extremely adaptable to the many process and social distancing changes Covid-19 has brought about.
I have worked in the pharmaceuticals sector for almost 30 years and have experienced many ups and downs. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most serious crises the UK has ever faced, and one that the sector as a whole will have to get through by coming together.
A priority for us all is patient safety and ensuring patients receive their often life-saving medicine. This is why we do what we do, because we can make a difference and save lives. All for the public benefit.
But there is no magic wand that is going to resolve the situation quickly and even the arrival of the first vaccines may not provide the reassurance that many hope for, particularly as their effectiveness and the timings around their testing and mass production are still unclear.
Coupled with this is the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the end of the Transition Period and the potential for the UK to leave the EU without a deal on January 1, 2021.
For the sector to survive and thrive we must all plan ahead and adapt to the new reality. Community pharmacists have already begun this journey by being very adaptable and innovative, such as by establishing delivery services to ensure the elderly and vulnerable receive the medicine they need, as well as embracing video technology for consultations with shielding patients.
As a supplier to pharmacies we are making big efforts to prepare for a potential severe second wave of Covid-19 this winter as well as for a ‘No Deal’ situation, such as adapting our supply chains and ensuring we are acting upon the importing and exporting advice from the government’s UK Transition website. Another high priority for us is to work with the Department for Health & Social Care to ensure we are able to continue to supply our patients.
What is clear is that once all of these challenges are over, and they will eventually be over, community pharmacies will still be essential to people’s everyday lives, good health and wellbeing.
I strongly believe that pharmacies and the whole pharma sector have a major role to play in the nation’s recovery, and I hope once we get past the current pandemic and political changes, that the nation recognises community pharmacists, NHS, social and care workers, as the unsung heroes they truly are.
Dr Nik Kotecha OBE is chairman of Morningside Pharmaceuticals.