The high-risk nature of being a pharmacist right now.

Being a pharmacist has always been difficult, but it’s an interesting and rewarding career. Always trying to juggle between providing the best healthcare to the community while maintaining business viability. However, being a pharmacist during the COVID-19 crisis has really confronted me with the tremendous challenges facing the pharmacy sector right now. We’re constantly battling multiple issues on a daily basis: an ongoing supply shortage of certain medications (which is nothing new but also due to stockpiling), rationalising stock so that everyone can continue to get adequate supply with no interruption, handling an extremely large amount of scripts, answering relentless phone calls and arranging posters to inform patients about COVID-19 while deterring patients with symptoms from entering the pharmacy.

Furthermore, pharmacy teams across the country are under enormous stress to try to implement unfamiliar but necessary infectious control procedures with minimal support from MOH and the DHB. I can remember vividly waking up in the middle of the night on a Saturday where our Prime Minister announced that we are at level 2 of the COVID-19 alert system. What worried me the most was that my staff were potentially being exposed to the virus with little or no protection in the midst of the crisis. Rather than having the funding to serve our community like doctors using online steaming consults, we are the literally in the frontline dealing with high-risk patients who require our support. This somehow reminds me of the scene in the movie “Titanic” where pharmacy staff are like the band continuing to play soothing music for every passenger even when the ship is sinking.

Innovation often arises in the times of stress, and thank you to all the pharmacists across the country assisting and sharing possible ideas to make it a lot safer for both people in their community and for pharmacy staff. The immediate problem we are facing is the accessibility of personal protective equipment (PPE). There is a constant shortage of surgical face masks and hand sanitiser meaning that besides washing our hands’ hundreds of times a day, hand hygiene is difficult to maintain. If we do not have the right protective equipment, we could be putting our frontline staff at risk of getting sick and the worst-case scenario is that if one team member is sick, the pharmacy would have to be closed for a period of time which could have a significant impact to the local community.

To mitigate this, we have implemented a new split team roster in our pharmacy. For the next 3 to 4 weeks, you will be served by 2 teams of staff each lead by a pharmacist. Each team will be working on separate days to eliminate contact with the other team so that we can minimise the chance of cross-contamination and to ensure the continuity of providing healthcare services to our community. In order for this to work, we need your support more than ever. We would greatly appreciate if you could give us sufficient time to process your prescriptions or repeats. We will also be implementing an “email and collect” service where you could email us your prescription/repeat or any over-the-counter products you need and we will prepare it in advance for your collection at a specific time. This way, you’ll not need to wait for your turn as we are only allowing 1 person in the pharmacy at one time for your safety and to help maintain the 2-meter distancing rule.

We are in a very interesting time in our lives and the future is a little bit blurry at the moment. However, regardless of what it holds, I can guarantee that we will be by your side throughout the whole fight and doing what we do best-providing expert care and sound advice in the midst of uncertainty.

All we want from you is to think about your community pharmacy and each pharmacy team working in a high-risk environment. Think about their families too. We need to protect our pharmacy assistants, technicians and pharmacists, because without them the ongoing support and service they provide to aged care facilities, the elderly and health compromised individuals may be disrupted.

Remember – Stay home. Save lives!

To you and your family’s health