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The role of a pharmacist during Covid-19

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Pharmacists have been critical to the Covid-19 response and key workers in the health service. Our pharmacy graduates and practising pharmacy academics have been working hard on the frontline to support the public during the pandemic. Meadhbh Conway and Alexander Moore, are both Teacher Practitioners here at the University of Sunderland and have roles with community pharmacies. Here, they share an insight into how the pandemic has affected them.

Meadhbh Conway - Multi-sector pharmacist across community pharmacy and primary care
Meadhbh Conway, Pharmacy Teacher Practitioner
What did your role involve before the pandemic?

“Within Community pharmacy I was responsible for the safe and effective running of a busy independent community pharmacy near Newcastle. This was a patient facing role and I was involved in providing essential, advanced and enhanced NHS services including medicines use reviews, substance misuse services and private services including travel health.

Prior to Covid-19, my primary care role was in medicines optimisation which included cost savings and ensuring the correct medication for the correct patient. I conducted ‘falls medication reviews’ with housebound patients. These reviews took place in patients’ homes and I conducted a polypharmacy medication review on these patients with the aim of reducing their falls risk.”

How has your role changed over the past year?

“Over the past year there has been numerous changes to my role as a pharmacist. During the first wave of the pandemic, community pharmacy became the first point of contact for patients as they struggled to access other healthcare providers, such as GPs, dentists and hospitals. We extended our opening hours to cope with the initial significant increase in workload. Additionally, we provided a delivery service to all patients who were shielding or considered to be at high risk for Covid-19. I continued to provide advice and consultations for patients where necessary - either over the phone or socially distanced or with full PPE. We liaised closely with local GP practices to ensure continuity of care for patients.

Within primary care, I started a new role as a Primary Care Network pharmacist. Primary Care Networks have been created to allow GP practices, specialist services and multi-disciplinary teams (pharmacist, community nurses) to work together to provide extended hour specialist services for patients in their locality. I continued to conduct ‘falls medication reviews’ where possible either over the phone or video.

During the pandemic, pharmacists were increasingly involved in supporting care home residents. We established a working relationship with local care homes and ensured each care home was aligned to named GP. I worked closely with patients, care homes, nurses and the named GP to create a structure for conducting medication reviews for all care home residents and to ensure medication relation issues are addressed promptly.

I identified patients that were considered high risk from Covid-19 and medication related harm and ensured that they were prioritised for pharmacist reviews. I have created appointment slots for pharmacists and waiting lists for patients requiring structured medication reviews.

I liaised closely with community pharmacies to resolve medication shortage issues and medication queries in a timely manner which has resulted with improved relationships between care settings and ultimately benefiting patients.”

Do you think any of these changes have improved your day to day working?

“Covid-19 has allowed for improved communication between community pharmacies and GP practices. Additionally, it improved the public perception of community pharmacies, capabilities of pharmacists and the services and care we can provide.

I believe the established relationship between GP practices and care homes has ultimately benefited patients. I believe I have become more established as a member of the multi-disciplinary team and I am now involved in practice and prescribing meetings and I am regularly consulted for my advice and clinical guidance. Additionally, patients are now recognising the role of pharmacists in the primary care setting due to the increasing patient facing element.”

Have you been involved in the vaccination process?

“Since December I have been involved in all stages of the vaccination process from identification of eligible patients, reconstitution and administration of the vaccine to patients. Additionally, I provide advice to patients and members of the clinical team on patients with a history of severe allergic reactions, complex medical history and adverse reactions to the vaccine. I believe this has allowed me to further improve my role as part of the multi-disciplinary team and public perception of pharmacists.”

Alexander Moore - Pharmacist within community pharmacy and in general practice

Alexander Moore, Pharmacy Teacher Practitioner

What did your role involve before the pandemic?

“Within the community, I was involved in clinical service delivery and providing reviews for patients on their medications. In general practice, my role was quite similar and was entirely focussed on speaking to patients about their medications, amending them where appropriate and working with other members of the practice team to manage patient care.”

How has this changed over the past year?

“Over the past year, I moved full time into general practice, so my role did not change hugely as I was still able to discuss medications and review patients over the phone. My face to face work did however suffer as I could not see patients. This has made reviews difficult on occasion due to difficulty hearing, phone connection etc. I also could not effectively liaise with other members of the team due to distancing and we had to discuss concerns over the phone or via messaging systems/emails as we could not go to each other’s rooms to discuss cases. This made managing patients a lot slower on occasion. I also had to work from home as I was shielding which was very difficult given I had absolutely no contact with practice staff. I heavily relied on emails to communicate which made my work stream quite slow from time to time. My role in managing patient care increased as a result of this as we aimed for pharmacists to provide additional levels of support to patients with queries, reviews and medicine’s management.”

Do you think any of these changes have improved your day to day working?

“These changes have improved my day to day working. Working in a pandemic has allowed me to support patients better. I have been able to reassure them that the same level of care can be provided to them even if we have to distance and/or shield. This improved my skills within clinical review as I had to think of other ways to provide care without them coming into practice. I’ve become more involved in patient care as a result of the pandemic given there have been increased pressures on the sector and as a result, I have managed more patients across a wider range of areas and learned a lot due to this.

I’ve also been able to use my experience working through Covid-19 to educate students at university about the pressures, the importance of teamwork and value of other healthcare professionals and the togetherness shown by everyone affected by the radical changes to working.”

For more information on key worker roles, read What is a key worker profession?

Published: 31 March 2021