Life lessons from the pandemic
Peter Kelly says his biggest takeaway from Covid is that, in normal times, you should never operate at 100 per cent of your capacity…
What have I learnt from the pandemic? My biggest takeaway is that in normal circumstances you should not go the extra mile. You should stay within your limits and capabilities.
If you were always doing that bit extra and operating at maximum capacity on a daily basis before the pandemic, there is a good chance the pandemic will have wiped you out completely.
Always giving 100 per cent and going the extra mile is the right attitude and approach if you are playing professional football for Liverpool. If you are in the Champions League final and you start to feel the strain in your leg muscles, push through, fight on, play for the win. Sport is all about winning.
If you overdo it and need to sit out for a few weeks afterwards to recover and recuperate, you will still get paid handsomely. If you are working in a pharmacy and you are feeling the strain but push through, and you then need to take a few months out as you are feeling mentally and emotionally drained, you will not get paid handsomely. You will get a token amount at best.
Football at a senior level is all about winning. Community pharmacy at the moment is a game of attrition and survival. Before the pandemic, I had a delusion that the powers-that-be would never throw too much at us, that the workplace would never become overwhelming or a mentally unsafe environment to work in.
That delusion has been completely shattered, and I now know I must be vigilant about my own well-being. I need to set the boundaries of what I can do and recognise what is a step too far, not just for me but also for everyone on my team. Sometimes you have to say ‘no’.
There might be some business owners, senior managers or NHS leaders who feel dismay at this attitude. They might feel that I am encouraging people to act in a way that goes against their interests, but if you view what I am saying in that way then you are being short sighted.
The last few years have been utterly gruelling for pharmacy teams for some obvious reasons and some not so obvious. Year one of the pandemic we had the difficulties of the early panic from customers. This period of the pandemic has been well documented and actually, in hindsight, was not too bad.
The big issue in the first year of the pandemic was that pharmacies were constantly short staffed. There was always someone who could not work because they had Covid, had symptoms or were shielding. We had a year where everyone had to do more work than they normally would.
In year two, when things started to open up, we had the same issue but for slightly different reasons. Many of us did not take holidays during year one: as there was nothing to do, we rolled holidays over. During year two, there was pretty much always someone on holiday. That led to two years of constant extra work for everyone.
Do not underestimate how tiring and tedious constantly having to do extra work can become. Remember, if you were already operating at 100 per cent you had now been working beyond your own capacity for at least two years.
Two other aspects of the last few years have also been draining. One issue has been well-documented and one not. Confrontations over mask wearing and dealing with those who thought it was all a hoax and that the government was behaving like ‘Nazis’, was tedious and irritating.
But we also had an incredible number of conversations with patients who were grieving the loss of loved ones. Those conversations were important, but they were not easy. I am the son of an undertaker and even I found these conversations tough going due the sheer number of them and the fact they are time consuming.
If someone tells you their mother has just died and nobody could go to the funeral, then no matter how busy you are, you have to listen and give them time to express themselves. In some cases, they had nobody else to share this stuff with. I cannot speak for pharmacy teams nationally, but we are experiencing staff shortages where I am. We have lost good, experienced staff and are having real difficulties finding suitable replacements.
My personal view is that the big challenge in pharmacy for the next few years will be staff shortages. Senior managers and pharmacy leaders need to look seriously at workload and how they can make pharmacies enjoyable places to work. If you have a hole in your boat, you fix the hole before you paint the boat (Did the quality payment activities really need to go ahead this year?).
If you are a young conscientious person who enjoys a chat and wants to work in a social environment (this was always what appealed about the job for people who opted to work in a pharmacy, as far as I can see) where would you choose to work right now? In a coffee shop or a pharmacy?
Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London and a stand-up comedian. He will be performing as his alter ego Jack Hester this summer at festivals in Hastings and Guildford and at the Edinburgh Fringe.