Wherever you can help, you’re needed.

Written by Ciara O’Brien

I thought I would have community pharmacy PTSD walking past the counter back into the dispensary of my local pharmacy last Thursday afternoon!

With these unprecedented times, we are all being called upon to do what we can - most importantly to stay at home! However, after working from home for eight days straight, I felt I could do more to help. While there is a skills survey on the NHS England and NHS Improvement coronavirus website, I decided to take a ‘think global, act local’ approach and phoned the community pharmacy 5 minutes’ walk from me, first thing on a Thursday morning.

I didn’t think I’d get through on the first try knowing how pressured the NHS front line was, but when I did, I garbled out that I was a local pharmacist who wanted to volunteer in any capacity. I thought they would be reluctant, after all – why would such a stretched system want to take on the additional burden of having an extra person around, needing to be trained. Especially as I didn’t feel comfortable taking on any Responsible Pharmacist duties, after being out of practice. Despite my concerns, they were so grateful for this little support I could offer them around my full time job.

That same afternoon, I found myself crossing the dispensary boundary for the first time in 5 years. Although many things have changed (I was shocked at seeing a ‘white’ electronic prescription for the first time – had the colour printer run out of green ink for FP10s?) many things have stayed the same. I was able to help immediately with unpacking deliveries and assembling prescriptions after a speedy A-Z tour of the dispensary and a quick demo of the till meant I could deal with payments to clear the Pharmacy and maintain the safe social distancing. My next hurdle is the dispensing system - wish me luck!

While I could have spent this time doing other CPD (the GPhC have currently postponed revalidation) I’m revisiting old skills, definitely picking up new ones and reacquainting myself with my pre-reg roots and front-line healthcare; which I know will ultimately benefit my ‘day job’. I will admit – it makes me feel really good to get back on the front line and that I’m going above and beyond to help in this time of great need. I’m also proud to be working alongside colleagues in a different sector. This Pharmacy team are wonderful and truly resilient in the face of this pandemic continuing to do their best to serve the community.

I would encourage anyone who has the means, capacity and ability to consider how you can offer your services locally in contribution to the efforts of our profession at this time. Now more than ever is the time for Pharmacists in all sectors to demonstrate our commitment to the health of the nation.

Here are some helpful tips and resources to get started if you want to contribute to the Pharmacy efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Remember that the health of you and those close to you comes first. Do not volunteer if you or anyone close to you presents symptoms or has risk factors associated with or could be impacted by coronavirus infection.

2. The NHS has published some useful FAQ's which also include information regarding indemnity cover and DBS checks. There is also guidance for return to practice available through the RPS here. Be aware that individual pharmacies and chains will have their own procedures in place.

3. Remember that you are volunteering. Only perform activities you can and feel comfortable with. The NHS returners’ guidance provides a helpful list of non-patient facing areas where assistance would be valued from Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician colleagues here.

4. Follow your employers guidance on volunteering. This could include discussing the length of time you wish to volunteer for, how your work will be covered in your absence and arrangements for regular check-ins.

5. You do not do anything that adversely affects others, and you comply with all reasonable instructions and SOPs.

6. You consider your employer’s commitments primarily and inform your placement of any potential conflicts of interest.

7. You must be completely transparent around the length of time since you last practiced and GPhC Registration. If you have recently relinquished your registration, the GPhC is offering temporary registration during this time. Please see details here.

8. Limit travel as much as possible, volunteer as close as possible to your home and avoid public transport as much as you can. As there is currently no central place to find out where pharmacy volunteers are needed - make use of your local network, speak to your local pharmacies, GP surgeries and hospitals. Adhere to social distancing requirements and do not go in person to make enquires where possible. Advice from Alastair Buxton - Director of NHS Services - Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee is to contact the LPC via: https://lpc-online.org.uk/

9. If Government guidance is in place re:self-isolation on returning from clinical work you follow this guidance post your last day of volunteer work and before returning to your usual place of work (if appropriate).
As per a communication from the GPhC on 20th March 2020, the revalidation submissions due between 20 March and 31 August 2020 (inclusive) have been postponed. Please note: You will still need to RENEW your registration between these dates if applicable.

Please be aware that our healthcare colleagues are incredibly stretched at the moment. If you make a commitment to volunteer - please do your best to keep it unless extenuating circumstances come up.
Remember at this time, the best thing we can all do is stay at home. Even if you don't feel that you can volunteer in practice, ask if you can provide a food/coffee delivery or anything else they need. There are also many opportunities to volunteer within your local community, check up on those you know who are at risk and keep yourself safe during this time.

If you do return to clinical practice please stay safe and good luck.


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