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Coronavirus lockdown: Preparing for the long-haul

It’s now been two weeks since the Prime Minister stared into our living rooms and instructed everyone to stay at home.

So much has changed in that time, with COVID-19 continuing on its predictable and damaging path across the UK. It has been a difficult time for everyone, including those working in the pharmacies that have remained open to provide essential healthcare services and maintain the supply of medicines.

Responding to changing demands

Pharmacy teams have had to manage a rise in demand that, in the initial stages of the outbreak, looked set to be overwhelming. In recent days, our experience here at West Elloe Pharmacy in Spalding is that those early signs of panic have now subsided to some extent.

As with supermarket shoppers, the urge to stockpile has given way to a more measured approach among patients and customers who can see there is no underlying issue with supply shortages.

That’s not necessarily the case elsewhere, however, with reports of lengthy queues not uncommon. And lengthy is certainly the word, both in terms of the waiting time and the stretched-out lines of people thankfully observing the rules on social distancing.

Protecting patients and staff

In such anxious times, patients are understandably fearful of coming into contact with other people in the pharmacy environment who may expose them to the virus, and that includes the staff. From our perspective, of course, the risk is seen from the other direction. Counter staff, dispensers, technicians, pharmacists and managers across the UK are all facing a revolving door of people all day, every day – and many are worried about it.

As an employer, I will do whatever I can to protect the members of my team. It’s not just about a duty of care, it’s about the fact I care about their health, and also because without them we simply cannot deliver the essential services so many patients rely on us for.

To be perfectly honest, the PPE we have been given only really scratches the surface, amounting to 50 masks, aprons and gloves (and we’ve been unable to order more from our wholesaler). Taking matters into our own hands, we decided to install temporary distancing measures in front of the double doors, using a high table as a physical barrier.

This worked to an extent, but we found some patients were leaning across it, and we have also had a few instances where it has led to patients being rude to the staff. As such, we’ve since built a more permanent barrier, replacing the table with a plexiglass screen – a sight that is sadly now common in essential retailers and pharmacies.

Resilience through remote collections

While this has been going on, our two Pharmaself24 prescription collection machines have continued to play a starring role in our resilience plan. The number of scripts going through the machines is on the rise week to week, and new users are coming on-stream all the time.

One notable example is a 92-year-old man who bought his first ever mobile phone for the sole purpose of being able to receive the notifications that mean he can collect from the Pharmaself24. He told us he felt it was important to do his bit to help.

We’ll wait and see how things continue to change over the coming weeks, but the set-up we now have in place, and the seriousness with which patients and staff are taking the distancing measures, mean we are in a good place to continue like this for the foreseeable future.

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