Ability Newsletter – March 2021

Welcome to the latest Ability Network newsletter - the quarterly mailing that keeps you up-to-date on news, events and issues that relate to disabled pharmacists.

Wed 10th March 2021 The PDA

In this issue:

  • Disabilities: Life without boundaries
  • PDA encourages pharmacists and patients within the community to #GetVaccinated
  • The impact of COVID-19 on mental health
  • Reasonable adjustments at university
  • Supporting disabled workers through the Covid-19 crisis
  • Getting in touch

Disabilities: Life without boundaries

By Richard Hutton, Locum/Consultant Pharmacist & PDA Regional Official (North)
The PDA Ability Network was established as part of our diversity programme to provide pharmacists with disabilities a route to inclusion within the profession. The Network was designed to offer help and advice to members and signpost them to resources that they may find useful.

Perhaps the most important tool in our armoury is to encourage members to share their experiences, both good and bad, and to discuss the obstacles they have had to overcome and what help they have received. By motivating members to share their stories and in particular showing how, by taking positive action, they managed to improve their situations is an important part of our newsletter.

To give an example, I would like to signpost you to a contribution from one member who struggled for several years with autism and then discovered that by bringing their situation out into the open they were able to find self-respect and help. I would urge anyone who has a similar experience to share it with us so that others can draw strength from it and assist us in fulfilling our mission statement.

Learn more:  Visit the Ability Network web page.

Get involved: If you would like to share your story of working as a pharmacist with a disability, please contact Richard Hutton. We would like to be able to share examples of good employment practices, member stories, and issues. You must be a pharmacist and can remain anonymous. Equally, if you would like to share positive examples of working with and supporting patients with disabilities, that would be helpful so that members can learn from your experiences.

PDA encourages pharmacists and patients within the community to #GetVaccinated

The PDA has recently launched a campaign that is calling on all pharmacists to have the Covid-19 vaccine and to help encourage patients, family, and friends to do the same.

Those with certain underlying health conditions are at greater risk of morbidity and mortality from Covid-19 and so the Ability Network encourages members within this category to have the vaccine.

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has identified various priority groups for coronavirus vaccination, which includes persons aged 16 to 64 with the following underlying health conditions:

  • Chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, and severe asthma
  • Chronic heart disease (and vascular disease)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic neurological disease including epilepsy
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Severe and profound learning disability
  • Diabetes
  • Solid-organ, bone marrow, and stem cell transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers
  • Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment
  • Asplenia and splenic dysfunction
  • Morbid obesity
  • Severe mental illness.

The JCVI also refers to clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) patients who will have some degree of immunosuppression or be immunocompromised and may not respond as well to the vaccine. These individuals are advised to continue to follow government advice on reducing their risk of infection. The JCVI is currently looking at whether any specific vaccine is preferred in this population.

Learn more: Read the Independent report, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination.

Get involved: Take part in the #GetVaccinated campaign by recording and then posting a video to social media using the hashtags #GetVaccinated and #PDAability on the following platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram, explaining why it is important for those with certain underlying health conditions to get vaccinated.

The impact of Covid-19 on mental health

By a fourth-year pharmacy student & PDA Ability Network Member
I am a fourth-year pharmacy student and was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 7 years ago. Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition characterised by so-called ‘positive’ symptoms, such as hearing voices and delusional beliefs, and ‘negative’ symptoms, such as apathy, and blunted affect, which means that emotional displays are severely restrained.

Most European studies report that rates of employment in people with schizophrenia are between 10% and 20%. Protective factors contribute to mental health and allow a person to be resilient in the face of challenges. Someone with a lot of protective factors such as strong relationships and healthy coping skills will be better equipped to overcome life’s obstacles and will be more likely to be employed. Barriers to being employed include discrimination, stigma, and lack of professional help. I previously worked as a doctor, so I do have protective factors.

At university, I enjoyed the course but struggled sometimes, particularly in my second year to complete assignments and engage with group tutorials. In my third year, I started receiving the support of the Inclusion Centre, getting extra time in exams, and being allocated a mentor to help with planning. This involved weekly meetings to discuss my work and how I was planning to carry it out. I found my third year much easier because of this and the continued contact with my mentor over the pandemic.

This year I have been studying online at a distance due to Covid-19 and I am appreciating the support of my peers when accessing lectures and discussing case studies. I am also on the committee of the Interprofessional Education Society which runs extracurricular activities to foster interprofessional relationships and help with continuous professional development. I am looking forward to graduating and beginning work as a pharmacist next year.

Learn more: About schizophrenia: tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family from Mind, the mental health charity.

Get involved: Join the Ability Network.

Reasonable adjustments at university

By Saz Karim, fourth-year pharmacy student & PDA Student Representative

My experience with reasonable adjustments is quite a different one because I’m an international student, I didn’t know about the Equality Act or reasonable adjustments before coming to the UK. I only learned that my health problems were regarded as a disability shortly before starting university, and in the beginning, I didn’t know what adjustments I could ask for. I even felt like asking for adjustments might not be fair to other students.

Over time, I came to see that reasonable adjustments are there to make the impact of your health on your studies less prominent. I found the student support team at the university very helpful. Despite not knowing what I needed, they worked with me to identify certain problems I face and how to address them. As I progressed through the course, I asked for additional adjustments as well as changes to my existing ones, as I started to feel the need for it. For example, I felt like the 25% extra time I had in exams was not enough and that I needed more time, so I requested that.

Although having regular meetings with university staff to work on these adjustments sometimes felt like extra work for me to do, I actually found that with having the right adjustments, I could perform at my best and reach my full potential. But I do think that it’s not always a linear line: the adjustments you need can change over time and it’s worth asking about and looking for more or different adjustments if you need to, but equally review them in case you feel like you don’t need them anymore. This might not be the case for everyone but certainly, in my case, it was.

Learn more: Guidance from the disability charity Scope UK on reasonable adjustments in college and university education.

Get involved: Become a PDA representative.

Supporting disabled workers through the Covid-19 crisis

By Jayne Love, PDA Organiser & Lead on Equalities
A few months ago, I attended a webinar hosted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on supporting disabled and women workers through the Covid crisis. Whilst disabled people comprise a fifth of the population, I was shocked to discover that they constitute three-fifths of Covid-19-related deaths. Further, the TUC highlighted concerns around the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the repercussions of this on disabled people, as it suspended certain duties within the Care Act 2014, particularly the obligation to assess needs in accordance with people’s requirements.
Covid-19 came at a time when disabled people had already been hit the hardest with changes to the welfare system over the past ten years, following benefit cuts and other austerity measures which have left disabled adults 4 times worse off financially than non-disabled adults. The TUC drew attention to the impact that the 2008 recession had on disabled workers when many were the first to be made redundant and the last to be re-employed, whilst others experienced negative changes to contractual terms and conditions as well as working practices, and there is apprehension that these patterns could be repeated with the economic fall-out from Covid-19. The already existing employment gap for disabled people and the pay gap for those who are employed are likely to widen with Covid-19.

The TUC additionally pointed to the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which has meant that it has been difficult for disabled workers to access it, and when they have, there have been some issues around it not fitting properly or working appropriately. Other issues for disabled workers have been around reasonable adjustments. All employers have a legal duty under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to reduce, remove and prevent any disadvantage that disabled workers face. Despite this legislation being in place for over 25 years, one of the biggest barriers that disabled workers face is employers not putting in place their reasonable adjustments. For example, a UNISON survey found that 50% of respondents faced barriers to doing their jobs that could be removed through reasonable adjustments, and of those who requested adjustments to be put in place, 67% had had some or all refused; 23% of those who had requested an adjustment waited a year or more to receive what they needed.

Research shows that 50% of disabled workers have been working from home for all or some of the time during the pandemic. There have been mixed experiences, with some facing challenges working from home in non-optimal conditions without their adjustments, whilst others have had a reduced impact on pain and fatigue, less commuting, and the ability to work more flexibly and take additional breaks when needed.

Learn more: Watch the TUC’s webinar on supporting disabled and women workers through the Covid crisis.

Get involved: If you would like to share your story of being a disabled worker during the Covid-19 crisis, please contact Richard Hutton. You must be a pharmacist and can remain anonymous if you wish.

Getting in touch 

As a pharmacist and PDA member working with a disability, if you feel that you have experienced discrimination at work or whilst studying then please contact the PDA as soon as possible for advice and support. There are processes and timelines for dealing with such matters and it is important to get early advice and guidance.

T:  0121 694 7000
E: enquiries@the-pda.org

Follow the Ability Network on social media using the hashtag #PDAability 

Please also feel free to share this mailing with a colleague that would like to read it. 

Pharmacists that are not yet members of the PDA can join here.

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