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Pharmacy during the Covid-19 pandemic and the future

In our latest member voice article, Northern Ireland GP Pharmacist Laura Kearney talks about joining the PDA Regional Committee. Laura also shares her experience of working in pharmacy during the Covid-19 pandemic and discusses her thoughts on the future of pharmacy.

Tue 14th September 2021 The PDA

I had an experience in a previous job where I knew that I had been wrongly treated by my employer. I felt powerless despite knowing that I was not at fault, and it made me determined to help others in a similar situation. I became a member of the PDA after being referred by a colleague. After becoming more involved with the PDA, I stood for election to the NI Regional Committee to help others. I really enjoy the role and wish it was something that I was involved in earlier in my career. As young pharmacists we are thrown into the deep end early on and it can be difficult to challenge someone in a higher position.

I have been a pharmacist for 19 years, I initially worked for 14 years in community pharmacy, 10 of those as a manager and then I moved to general practice.

Working in pharmacy

I was one of the initial group of pharmacists to join the Federation Scheme in Northern Ireland and have remained there since. I work in a GP practice in East Belfast, and I have a really varied and interesting role. I run asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and warfarin clinics, manage prescription requests, conduct audits and reviews, answer queries. Every day is different! I enjoy my role and find it very rewarding. The PDA is the recognised trade union in Northern Ireland GP Federations. 

I have always loved the mystery of a pharmacy, the white coats, the smells, the potions, the lotions. I’m a people person and I also love talking to patients and the satisfaction of helping someone. I think we can all associate with that.

Changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic

The pandemic has challenged us all in terms of stress and workload, but it has also shown us new ways of working and highlighted inefficiencies in the system. As a practice, we have really got on board with remote consultations. I have managed to review patients by phone or video that have never been able to get into the surgery previously! It has also made us look at how we prescribe and how we can reduce workload and do things smarter and safer.

I think that the vaccination programme in both community and general practice has raised the profile of pharmacy to patients. Also, at times when access to GP surgeries was limited, community pharmacy has demonstrated that they are the front line of accessible patient care. For me, I have certainly honed my remote consultation skills and I believe an element of that way of doing things will remain. I have learned that I generally need to spend longer on a remote consultation than I if I were seeing the patient face to face, sometimes the information needs to be teased out.

I am more efficient in my working day; I need to be as my workload has increased. Most of my consultations are still by phone or video though I still do see my warfarin patients face to face which I really enjoy. One positive outcome of the pandemic is that everyone in the practice now wears scrubs every day, no more dithering over what to wear every day, this is one change we have all agreed to keep!

Pharmacy in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is probably ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of general practice pharmacy. In the past 5 years, we have increased the number of pharmacists in the role to the point that every surgery now has at least one pharmacist. We are a well-known and valued point of contact for patients and other healthcare professionals. Our role is constantly evolving, and I am excited about the future!

For me I think that as pharmacists we can get submerged down in the clinical side of things and not notice when things in our role aren’t right. We often work in quite an isolated role, sometimes as the only pharmacist in the shop. Being part of a union gives us the confidence to challenge things that aren’t right or fair and helps give us examples of good practice. Being a PDA member has made me critique my own practice and challenge my own ways of doing things for the better.

My plans for the future

My goal is to promote the role of the pharmacist in all sectors. I want to help raise the standard of pay and work conditions. I also want to help develop the role of a general practice pharmacist to allow career progression and to further encourage and support specialised clinical roles for the general practice pharmacist.

I would like to remain in the general practice sector and develop clinically as a pharmacist. I would like to specialise in respiratory medicine and would hope that pharmacists can have a greater role generally in the management of stable long-term conditions.

I can imagine that automation of the dispensing process will be a challenge in the future. The pandemic has increased online shopping for most people and a mass online pharmacy system is a threat to community pharmacy. I have confidence that our profession will evolve to meet this challenge as it has done many times before. I think that by promoting our role to the public as medical experts, we can challenge the concept of an online platform for delivery of prescription medicines. We can do much more than just dispense prescriptions.

Pharmacists are often guilty of tirelessly working away in the background never shining a light on what we do! We should be proud as a profession to shout about the good work that we do, other healthcare professionals certainly do! It struck me when I began working in general practice that GPs had no idea what community pharmacists do. I think we all need to stand up and be proud of our important roles and let others know in any way we can. Social media is a good tool for this.

“I would advise all pharmacy students to join the PDA and learn about things that are happening in other parts of the UK.”

PDA membership is free for pharmacy students and trainees. My advice would be to learn by good practice and don’t allow yourself to become deskilled by being in a role where learning and development is not encouraged.

Laura Kearney, General Practice Pharmacist and PDA Regional Committee Member


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