By Sandra Gidley, RPS President
As I look back over the last year, I’m enormously proud of how pharmacists have risen to the challenge of COVID-19.
As the country went into lockdown, there was great uncertainty about what the future held and how the virus would affect everyday lives.
Those early days seem like a lifetime away. We were all dealing with personal protective equipment, social distancing, maintaining medicines supplies, shielding, key worker status, access to COVID-19 testing. Not to mention the impact on our personal lives: making it into the supermarket and finding fresh food, schools closing and concerns about travel restrictions.
Some of us got the virus and tragically, some colleagues, friends and loved ones did not recover. Each individual death is such a loss for a family or a friend, and the grief and pain will endure.
Pharmacists met all of this uncertainty with determination and dedication to looking after patients.
While shops and other health settings closed their doors and people started working from home, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and support staff were on the frontline of COVID-19, day in, day out.
I saw things I have never before seen in my professional life as a community pharmacist because pharmacy was accessible and trusted to give advice as other avenues were not available. I was also heartened by the number of people offering to help, desperate to do their bit. So, whilst in some cases people vented their anger they were in the minority and my overwhelming memory is of a community spirit.
At the RPS, it increasingly became clear that any of our plans for the year would have to be paused as we refocused all our attention to helping the profession face a public health emergency.
Whether it was offering reassurance on packing down paracetamol as demand went through the roof, or rapidly developing guidance on ethical, professional decision-making for teams working under pressure, empowering pharmacists to use their professional judgement was at the heart of doing the right thing for patient care.
Never before had such a spotlight shone on the NHS. As the Prime Minister and health leaders joined the regular evening press conference and praised the hard work of health and care staff on national television, our pharmacy heroes slowly started to receive the recognition they deserved.
One year on, it’s good to see that progress has been made. But there were also some setbacks, not least with the consternation across the profession at policy on death in service benefits, which makes me all the more angry when I reflect on our colleagues who lost their lives to COVID-19.
And there are others who will be living with the long-term effects of COVID-19 for some time to come.
This past year has underlined the importance of looking after our workforce, so they can keep looking after patients. We’ve welcomed the expansion of NHS wellbeing services available to pharmacists and will keep campaigning so that pharmacy teams are supported.
We must also learn lessons from COVID-19 and the innovation and transformation we saw in pharmacy practice. We had a fantastic response from the profession to inform our report published last July on The Future of Pharmacy in a Sustainable NHS. With continued pressure on the NHS, it’s vital that governments across GB build on the positive changes we’ve seen during the pandemic and make the most of pharmacists’ expertise to support patient care. We’ve already seen some welcome investment in pharmacy in Wales and Scotland. England must follow suit.
We saw pharmacists returning to the register at a time of national crisis and the dedication of pre-reg trainees working on the frontline in what has been a hugely challenging year. The amazing success of the vaccine roll-out is also a tribute to pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists up and down the country working in research, managing complex supply chains, or working in vaccine clinics.
Today, we still don’t know what the ‘new normal’ will look like but there is light at the end of the tunnel. I want to again thank all our pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and support staff for their continued commitment.