COVID 19: is there a silver lining?


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We all know about the challenges that 2020 has brought, but have this year’s events had a silver lining for pharmacy?

Leading UK pharmacy academic Christine Bond thinks there have been some positives for pharmacy that will emerge from 2020 – from efficiency gains such as e-prescriptions, to greater awareness of the role pharmacy plays.

While she acknowledges that, at the moment, it is hard to see any silver in the current situation, “when we reflect, we should see that there are in fact some good things which could come out of the challenging times in which we are living today”.

Ms Bond, editor of the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, and a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, said one especial ‘silver lining’ she identified was the visibility and extra clinical role the pandemic has offered community pharmacists – making them ‘unsung heroes’ of the pandemic.

“In terms of patient contact, our community pharmacy colleagues are rare amongst other healthcare colleagues in remaining available on the High Street to answer patients’ concerns and provide continued medication supplies, be that over‐the‐counter remedies or prescription medicines,” Ms Bond wrote.

“As an essential service, they have been universally allowed to remain open when countries are in lockdown. Indeed, many have referred to pharmacists as being one of the unsung heroes of the healthcare team during this current pandemic.

Similarly, in secondary care, pharmacists have been sought for their clinical expertise and been redeployed from their normal roles to support the high workload in ICU”.

The pandemic had also “forced on clinical colleagues more efficient ways of working, and there has been fast‐tracking of regulatory changes, previously just dreamt of, such as a Scottish scheme set up to enable pharmacists to make small changes to prescriptions,” she said.

“Again, digital infrastructures have been shown to be facilitative in maintaining services safely, and where available, electronic prescribing has eliminated the risks of transmitting infection via paper.”

“Looking to the future what would we want to take from the new normal into the old normal? There is generally a sense from the profession [in the UK] that there is greater recognition of pharmacists’ expertise and of community pharmacy as being part of the NHS. We must make sure this is not lost.”

Many of those experiencing the most severe COVID‐19 infections are older patients likely to have multimorbidities or, if younger, already have a long‐term condition such as diabetes, Ms Bond said.

“New drugs to treat COVID‐19 will need to be incorporated into polypharmacy regimes with due attention paid to drug interactions and contraindications. In many countries, pharmacists will also surely be involved in administering the millions of vaccines that will be needed to confer essential herd immunity.

Virtual communication – whether for personal interactions or transmission of information, is most likely to remain, but we must also recognise when it is appropriate, and wanted by patients, and when it is unhelpful and could result in second class care,” she said.

“We can that the pandemic, coupled with a pre‐existing workforce crisis in health care, could be the catalyst needed to take the pharmacy profession forward…. This really is the time for pharmacists to grasp the nettle and show they are fit for the future, confirming their central place within healthcare teams. Whether in hospital, primary care or intermediate care settings, there might be a small silver lining after all”. 

 

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