Coping with Covid in Wales’ community pharmacies
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
So many people in Wales have stepped up and played a vital role in the fight against Covid-19.
Whether it be front-line health workers, social care workers, care home staff, the police, shop workers or teachers, there are many people who we owe a great debt of gratitude to during this pandemic.
And another one of those groups is our community pharmacists who have kept the supply of vital medicines going.
Perhaps slightly going under the radar, they have played a massive role in keeping society functioning in a number of ways.
Aled Roberts works at the Well Pharmacy in Gilfach Goch and was recently named the organisation’s community pharmacist of the year for 2020.
He was nominated along with 50 others and made the shortlist with seven fellow pharmacists before coming out on top.
He said it was unexpected but that it was nice to be recognised by his peers.
Speaking about the pandemic, Mr Roberts said: “It has definitely been a challenge right from the off.
“It’s probably the hardest time I have ever had in community pharmacy.”
He said this experience was shared by a lot of community pharmacists and that early on the challenges were as they were for lots of areas of healthcare.
This included getting access to PPE as well as the increasing workload.
Mr Roberts said: “In the early weeks everyone was a bit panicked. It was hard to adjust.”
He said patients were very fearful and as a reaction to that they had an increase in prescriptions which amounted to about 20%.
He said there was a massive increase in workloads which he said was challenging in itself but added to that was the staff shortages created by the fact some staff had to isolate.
He said this created a challenge in terms of getting stock for even things like paracetamol at one stage.
Mr Roberts said: “We stayed open which is probably unique out of the community healthcare settings.”
“They changed how they were able to work we weren’t able to do that.”
He said many community healthcare settings were able to do things like virtual consultations which wouldn’t work for pharmacies.
“People still needed to come to the pharmacy to pick up their medication. We were very much at the front line with people wanting to come to us as an alternative.
“The pharmacy has always prided itself on being open access. That has very much been the case and still is the case,” Mr Roberts said.
He said he is really proud of the way they have responded particularly when at times in Gilfach Goch the workforce has been down by 30%.
He praised his colleagues for coming in on weekends and giving up holidays to keep the operation going.
Mr Roberts said that the initial government communication about key workers didn’t mention pharmacies.
He said: “I would like to think what we have done during Covid has raised the profile of pharmacists and shown people how vital we are.
“If we hadn’t stayed open the consequences for other parts of the NHS would have been more severe.”
He mentioned that they run a common ailments service which offers patients access to free NHS advice and treatment for common ailments that cannot be managed by self-care.
It also offers an alternative to making an appointment with the GP.
He said they are the only place for people who are isolating through Covid to have an opportunity to have some human interaction.
Mr Roberts said: “We have been that one reliable thing. When you couldn’t access your hairdresser, you could still go and see your pharmacy team.
“We have provided a lot of NHS services that improve access to healthcare.”
Mr Roberts said the Gilfach Goch pharmacy has also helped to keep people out of hospital by being involved with delivering the flu vaccination programme.