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The 12 labours of pharmacy


The 12 labours of pharmacy

In pharmacy we have seen ourselves cast as both heroes and villains, says Mohammed Hussain

The legend of the 12 labours of Heracles comes to us from ancient Greece, although we know the man better today as Hercules. Hercules had to complete 12 labours, each more difficult than the last.

The labours included slaying the multi-headed Hydra, a monster that grew new heads as each one was severed. It also had poisonous breath (masks needed). Today working in pharmacy requires a Herculean effort to tackle the multi-headed beast that is Covid-19 and all that comes with it.

Just when we think things are returning to normality there is a new twist. Christmas and New Year this year has been challenging for everyone - a rerun of Christmas 2020 for many. Omicron has spread faster than any variant before it, and although its fatality rate has so far been lower, that is not the only metric. The full impact of the absence of workers due to infection and the complications of long Covid are as yet unknown, and the effect on the mental health of nation are also important.

Pharmacies have been cast as both heroes and villains: heroes for stepping up and delivering millions of vaccines through pharmacy-led clinics, villains as gatekeepers for the lateral flow tests (LFTs) that the government has been urging everyone to use while not providing sufficient supplies.

The worst aspect of this has been the code that members of the public must register for online, and which they need to provide at the pharmacy. This gives the false impression that when a code is generated there is a corresponding physical stock available to collect.

There is no link between the generation of the code and the availability of stock. Little surprise, then, that some members of the public, who feel they are entitled to stock and do not receive it, become aggressive and angry with the pharmacy team.

This is an entirely avoidable issue if the websites either made clear the collection codes were not a guarantee of stock, or even better, the whole collection code process was scrapped entirely. Overworked pharmacy teams have to re-enter these collect codes to claim the fee for each LFT collected. This is not what we should be asking of pharmacy teams in the middle of a pandemic.

Enter the Association of Independent Multiples (AIMp) which has been collating the experiences of its members and working hard for many months to raise awareness of the problems with the current LFT supply system. Thanks to their carefully planned and calibrated campaign the issue made the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme and then mainstream media news headlines for several days.

AIMp is an example of a small organisation making a Herculean effort to represent the views and lived experiences of pharmacy staff to policymakers. The Association spokesmen do not do it for personal media attention or to advance their own egos - unfortunately we have too much of that already in our national pharmacy bodies. Kudos to AIMp for showing how to raise awareness of pharmacy issues through careful hard work and executing a media plan.

Back on the ground in each pharmacy, we continue to plough through our 12 labours of pharmacy:

1.     Managing the fallout from insufficient supplies of LFTs
2.     Trying to avoid the airborne Omicron infection when some customers still refuse to wear a mask
3.     Dealing with staff sickness and its impact on pharmacy services
4.     Requests for home delivery
5.     Coping when wholesaler orders do not arrive and the ‘owing’ mountain grows
6.     Covid vaccination clinics
7.     Flu vaccination clinics
8.     Online CPCS referrals, including for patients testing positive for Covid
9.     Verbal referrals of patients from GPs to pharmacy
10.   PCN leads making branded generic switches
11.   Telephone calls at unprecedented levels
12.   The normal dispensing volume and day job.
Like Hercules, we have learnt that trying to slay the Hydra is an almost impossible task, but we take solace from the fact that Hercules succeeded. Perhaps, one day, we too will overcome this Hydra.

Mohammed Hussain is an independent contractor and non-executive director of Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust.

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