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Insight: Covid has come to our pharmacy

By Alexander Humphries*

One member of staff has Covid, a person we had covering had symptoms but tested negative and another has been confirmed as having the virus although hasn’t been in work for a while. It is chaos and I’m stressed

As I sit down to write this column, I could well be getting a text message from NHS Test and Trace telling us all to isolate for 10 days, thereby shutting the pharmacy. No financial compensation has been agreed for pharmacies that have had to close as a result of the virus, so the implications of shutting up shop are huge — perhaps even fatal to a lot of pharmacies.

The staff WhatsApp group is pinging away in the background, mainly people asking if they have to isolate. I might be being cynical in interpreting this as “I’d quite like two weeks off”, but this is hardly surprising. We are all exhausted and fed up of hearing those who have been on furlough for nine months moaning about how bored they are.

The full-time member of staff who has tested positive hasn’t been in work for 11 days – long before her symptoms developed – so I think we are in the clear as far as work-based transmission goes, but this is by far the closest we have come to the virus.

Staff are furiously asking about contingency plans, to which my response has been: “We will make decisions based on the circumstances in front of us”. I am not one for having plans gamed out to the nth degree, because as the general said “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. Much better to make rational decisions based on the best information available at the time.

By all means get creative with the solutions but putting it down on paper is wasted effort in my world, especially when I don’t have enough time to do a dozen more important things.

Too close for comfort

It has still come as a bit of a shock to us that the virus is so close to our orbit. We are in a part of the country where overall case numbers are low but it has prompted us to recruit an additional member of staff on a flexible contract so we have someone else to call on. Like all pharmacies, we aren’t running with huge amounts of excess staff because of the need to stay lean in order to survive.

She was due to start last week, which would have felt like the cavalry coming over the hill, but frustratingly she developed anosmia (lost sense of taste/smell) and had to be tested, which took a few days. Thankfully the test result was negative, but it did mean that we have had to push her start date back. Do we have to begin developing contingencies for our contingencies?

The lead-up to Christmas is always a time when tensions are running high. Adding Covid into the equation has made things even worse. Last week I had a phone call from a patient who had “been told by the GP that we would deliver a prescription for her partner this morning because he has Covid”.

For 10 minutes the patient proceeded to tell me that I was obliged to deliver the medicine and if there was any misunderstanding, that was “between you and the practice”. I explained that there was no such thing as a NHS delivery service (until they turned the Pandemic Delivery Service back on).

The woman grew increasingly hostile and I told her that I was not used to being spoken to in this way. In the end we did deliver the medicine, but there was no reasoning with her. I’m afraid we are all in for a very tough few months and the sector really needs a morale boost to get through to the spring.

Not a single penny!

It is quite astonishing that billions of pounds of support has been found to keep all sorts of sectors afloat and yet community pharmacies have not seen a single penny from Government to deal with the higher costs of responding to Covid.

Enough is enough. One of the issues that we are having to deal with is that staff members feel undervalued by the fact that they haven’t had pay rises in years. They see people on the tills at Lidl earning more than they do with less stress and potentially less risk.

We had the clap for the NHS gesture earlier in the year, but this has failed to translate into actual, financial support for us. Were the NHS to provide additional funding, I think I would pass a substantial amount on to the staff to thank them for their hard work and diligence during the crisis.

One of the reasons for no support being forthcoming seems to be that we are still open – but there is a massive difference between being open and trading as normal. A large part of our retail business is in hibernation at a critical time of the year and the impact could be devastating.

*Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. How have you dealt with staffing issues due to Covid? Email pm@1530.com

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