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Reflecting on the PDA’s work to help in the fight against COVID-19

Since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year, the PDA has had a critical role to play in raising pharmacist issues and concerns with government and appropriate stakeholders alongside supporting members as they cope with the stress and uncertainty of working on the frontline during a global pandemic.

Tue 7th July 2020 The PDA

In the latest in our string of ‘coronavirus and its impact’ series of interviews, we caught up with PDA Head of Organising & Engagement, Collette Bradford as she reflects on how the PDA has helped to support members in the fight against COVID-19.

I lead the PDA field-based team of Regional Officials (pharmacists) who look after our Regional Committees, deliver workshops for students, and give guidance or represent pharmacist members with problems at work. I also lead and line manage our team of union professionals; our organising and education staff who recruit engage, develop and support PDA members and reps such as our equality networks, delivering CPD, conference and events for students to experienced pharmacists. I have a law background with over 20 years’ experience in trade union organising and education – my last being Director of Organising for ATL & NEU (ATL Section) for many years.

It’s been a hectic and stressful time for our pharmacist members working during the COVID-19 pandemic; pharmacists have been working long hours, with huge workloads in stressful work environments and for many putting their lives at risk to serve and treat patients ‘face to face’ when GP practices and A&E departments closed their doors and narrowed their public-facing services. Our pharmacist members in hospitals have been supporting patients, Drs, and nurses on COVID-19 patient wards and in care homes too.

Certainly, during the early weeks, our pharmacists were working without adequate PPE and without the equality of support provided to other healthcare workers, so the PDA has had a critical role to play in raising pharmacist issues and concerns with government and appropriate stakeholders alongside providing employment advice and pastoral care for members at this challenging time. As their emotional and mental well-being has been impacted, like so many NHS staff, we have signposted to Pharmacist Support services where appropriate too.

Our locum members have experienced a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances which has seen a decrease in their bookings due to some employers increasing the shifts for permanent staff and as social distancing measures were introduced in small pharmacies to ensure safe working practice. In addition, there has been a reduction in demand for holiday cover during the lockdown. The PDA was quick to respond by raising the concerns of locum members and in addressing the need for pharmacists created by the Nightingale hospitals, virus isolation procedures and the track and trace initiatives, by putting together a Locum Taskforce making their details available to NHS services, CCGs and Health Boards around the UK.

I feel so proud to be part of the PDA team who have all pulled together and put their shoulders to the wheel, working long hours to support our members during this pandemic. These unprecedented times have seen a constant barrage of demands in dynamically changing circumstances from daily Department of Health & Government briefings to stakeholder meetings, to trends of problems from members around the UK which we have had to respond to in all sectors of pharmacy.

A rapidly moving feast of problems which have required PDA colleagues to be reactive, responsive and to lead the sector, developing new campaigns and support for members. The PDA has fought every step of the way, for members and with members, to ensure that pharmacists have received the information, protection and recognition at work that they deserve during this crisis as they work on the front line as part of our health service; helping the system, looking after patients and supporting their communities.

The PDA helped to secure appropriate PPE, led the demand for death in service payments for pharmacists, provided ID cards for supermarket slots, and relaunched our long-standing campaign to reduce violence and abuse in pharmacies, which sadly, reared its ugly head again, as patients became frustrated and anxious when COVID-19 secure systems were implemented. Over 1,000 pharmacists completed our survey in just 24 hours as they experienced an increase in incidents of abuse and violent behaviour. We worked collaboratively with employers, Police Commissioners, Police Federations, and members to ensure that community pharmacies remained a safe and respectful workplace.

Pharmacist members anxiety and fear for their own health and safety was brought into sharp focus each time we heard the very sad news of the death of a pharmacist due to coronavirus. Each tragic loss shook the profession and our colleagues at the PDA. Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to all the families who have had to experience grief during this pandemic.

“We cannot underestimate the impact of working during COVID-19 on the mental health of all our healthcare workers.”

In addition to the risks and pressure at work, concerns around the wider life experiences of our members came to the fore during the pandemic. Many pharmacists, just like fellow keyworkers, are dealing with issues and challenges at home too. Looking after children’s welfare and schooling, trying to secure food supplies, worrying about the impact on family finances as partners are furloughed, and concerns for the care and health of elderly relatives. All that before they even tried to plan to travel to work safely, manage safety in pharmacies and look after patient’s health and medications too. At times, the stress and pressure of working during COVID-19, with the uncertainty a new and unknown virus brings to both work and personal lives, has been palpable during our telephone conversations and representations with members.

Most recently, the PDA has been in discussions with stakeholders and employers, regarding risk assessments. The PDA has produced a very helpful and practical Risk Assessment Toolkit to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 in community pharmacies and we have liaised very closely with many CCGs in relation to the risk assessment of hospital pharmacy staff too.

“Risk assessments must be undertaken in all pharmacies with a specific focus on the vulnerable, such as those who are pregnant or have known health conditions and particularly our BAME colleagues who make up 43% of the pharmacy workforce and who we know are more likely to be impacted if they are exposed to COVID-19.”

At the PDA we have focused significant resources, most especially from O&E team, on dealing with the issues, concerns, and support for new professionals; our student and pre-reg members who were thrown into unchartered waters. For students, their lectures, study and exams rapidly moved online with university pharmacy schools working very hard to support students including 4th years with their final examinations. We have guided our student members and made recommendations and representations where appropriate to pharmacy schools directly to ensure fair treatment and targeted support for all students.

We have also supported hundreds of pre-regs 121, through our pre-reg Webinar, regular communications and in Focus Groups following the GPhC decision to postpone the June assessment process, moving towards a one-year Provisional Registration for those eligible in 2020/2021; leaving those who are not eligible feeling very much abandoned.

The PDA has been proactive in our engagement with the GPhC and has participated in stakeholder meetings to raise the worries and concerns of pre-registration trainees in relation to the assessment process and Provisional Registration Policies including most recently employer guidance. It was an extremely stressful and uncertain time for the pre-regs as they waited to hear from the GPhC about what was next for their career progression. Many had studied diligently leading up to the assessment and worked tirelessly on the frontline, so their extreme disappointment and anger was understandable.

For many ‘Provisional Registration’ is now welcomed as the way forward but for those few hundred pre-regs who do not meet the GPhC eligibility criteria, their lives feel turned upside down as they see their career progress on hold with financial and life plans halted too.

“We all want our pharmacists and patients to be safe. We must work together to reduce and manage the risk of infection in all our pharmacy settings and especially in community pharmacy.”

The PDA received hundreds of emails and requests for 121 telephone conversations around pre-reg individual and collective issues as they sought to make sense of the new processes and find their way forward. Some feel their contribution during the pandemic has not been valued by the profession. There are lots of concerns around Provisional Registration in terms of the employer’s ability to respond and support new RP’s, finding prov-reg posts and receiving appropriate support. The PDA and the profession will remember the experience of this cohort, will support them and will work together to ensure this situation never happens again.

As part of our support the PDA produced our Charter for Provisional Registration which sets out the principles, we expect employers to follow when they employ a provisionally registered pharmacist and provides a framework to discuss with prospective employers at interview. Most importantly, prov-regs should feel that they can raise issues early, be confident to work within their competencies and know that the PDA is here to support them every step of the way; from indemnity insurance to employment advice, to professional support and professional development opportunities. The PDA will help all pre-regs and prov-regs to prepare for the assessment and develop their professional knowledge and skills. PDA membership is important to bring them peace of mind at the beginning and throughout their careers.

We all have to ensure that the profession leads, unifies and supports a divided cohort of prov-regs and pre-regs equally in terms of support and access to professional development and study time to guide them to success in the impending online assessment in 2021. The PDA has done all we can to raise this groups’ concerns, help to address and overcome their issues and we will offer free guidance, support and development opportunities to the whole cohort equally.

With regards to the impending assessment, it is public knowledge that the GPhC is preparing for an online assessment as soon as is practicable. The PDA has strongly raised member concerns with the regulator on the appropriate timing of the assessment, study time, revision time, preparation opportunities and timing issues in addition to asking for contingency planning in the event of a COVID-19 second peak and a no detriment policy for those experiencing specific issues and with particular ability issues.

My personal advice to all students, pre-regs and prov-regs is to try not to worry about the things you cannot change or influence; to focus on the elements of your study, training life and career that you do have control of. Safe practice at work and taking some time for study, but also include exercise, meeting friends and good food to nurture yourself and help to manage stress. Join the PDA and use the organisations within pharmacy who are here to help and support you, such as Pharmacist Support. Get involved in the PDA, we have rep roles from student to pre-reg to prov-reg where we engage, listen, support and take your views directly to the decision-makers – you have a strong voice and with the help of the PDA you have the influence to shape your career progression and your profession, this is an empowering opportunity.

The PDA is committed to developing the leadership capacity of our members to shape and lead the future of pharmacy and ensure that the pharmacy profession is fully prepared to face the future with all of the opportunities and challenges it will present.

By Collette Bradford, PDA Head of Organising & Engagement


For more information on the work of the PDA during the pandemic, visit the PDA’s dedicated coronavirus web page:

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