My experience working as a pharmacist during the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging to say the least.
I currently work as a locality pharmacist in commissioning support to my local CCG in Hull and also in community pharmacy. Prior to the coronavirus, I was supporting practices with the phase out of repeat prescription ordering services, provided by community pharmacies on the behalf of patients. This was to help reduce prescribed medicines wastage, (estimated to cost the NHS £300m per annum). We were also working with NHS Digital to assist in the optimisation of the NHS App to patients in local surgeries, so they could order medication using the App without having to call surgeries. During the peak of the pandemic, there was a marked increase in the download of the NHS App, as patients sought alternative ways to obtain their medication without visiting local surgeries. In addition to this, surgeries were looking for ways to implement electronic repeat dispensing, by identifying patients on regular managed medication.
In community pharmacy, the problem posed by the pandemic was completely different. Many people started to panic buy over the counter medicines and request their medication earlier than needed. This caused a tremendous strain on pharmacy staff and subsequent increased volume of prescriptions needing to be dispensed.
The pharmacy sector has had to adapt to the current situation and has done so in a remarkable way. One of the most challenging situations has been with medicines shortages. Medicines such as inhalers were out of stock and caused further anxiety in asthmatic and patients with respiratory conditions. There were already medicines shortage issues before the pandemic, but the pandemic further highlighted the issue. In instances where patients are unable to obtain medication on electronic prescriptions, we liaise with prescribers to switch to suitable alternatives. Another option would be to return the original electronic prescription back to the database for another pharmacy that has the item in stock to retrieve and dispense the item. Tech has enabled the use of electronic dispensing, which has made a significant impact in the way patients can obtain prescribed medication. Patients can have their medication dispensed anywhere in the country and are not limited to where it was originally prescribed. This has helped patients gain further access to this essential service.
I have certainly seen the benefits of how tech can transform care by improving access to essential services such as medication request and supply. It is unfortunate that it has taken the current situation to emphasise the importance of digital technology in improving access to patient services.
Locality Pharmacist - North of England Commissioning Support