Involving pharmacists in the UK’s Covid-19 vaccine roll out programme not only recognises their importance, but also presents an opportunity to reignite conversations around self-care in community pharmacies.
Whilst beginning 2021 with a COVID-19 lockdown was not how anyone wanted the year to begin, there is at least an expectation that this time will be different. With great momentum behind the nation’s vaccine rollout, there is renewed hope that better times are just around the corner. In the immediate term however, the pharmacy and wider healthcare sector knows that the coming months will be vital to beating this pandemic. The Government has set a target to vaccinate over 13 million people in the top four priority groups, a task that will take what vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi MP, has accurately described as a “Herculean effort”.
The first hurdles – developing, approving and procuring a vaccine – have already been cleared. So now, we face arguably the hardest task – physically administering the vaccine to those 13 million people most at risk from the virus. The scope of this inoculation effort is huge and the Government and health service will need all the help it can get.
After some concern and initial confusion around whether or not pharmacies would form part of the roll-out, it was encouraging to hear clarification from Government that they will, indeed, play a vital role in the process. The importance of community pharmacists is finally being recognised. According to the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Service Committee (PNSC) there are around 11,400 pharmacies across the country with the capability to vaccinate around 1.3m people against coronavirus each week.
A golden opportunity
News of pharmacy’s role in the vaccine programme coincided with a study launched by Public Health England, which found that 8 in 10 adults aged over 18 have decided to modify their lifestyle in 2021, with 7 in 10 adults saying that they are motivated to make healthier lifestyle changes due to coronavirus1. Indeed, recent research from Perrigo suggested that some had already begun to make these changes, with one third of UK adults having developed new self-care habits during lockdown, including exercising more, eating healthier and taking better care of their skin.
“The importance of self-care in 2021 cannot be understated, and the public are clearly starting to understand this”
The importance of self-care in 2021 cannot be understated, and the public are clearly starting to understand this. The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated an essential need to empower patients to control and have responsibility for their own health, including addressing their own minor ailments without burdening a stretched healthcare system. Indeed, throughout this pandemic we’ve heard the mantra ‘Protect the NHS’ near-constantly. In 2021, resetting the conversation around self-care and capitalising on a sea-change in public attitude will be vital to living up to this mantra.
So, with a clear appetite for a healthier 2021, and the potential for increased footfall in community pharmacies, let’s seize the opportunity to educate more people on self-care.
The importance of pharmacy
The process of getting a jab – physically sitting down with your pharmacist, rolling up your sleeve and taking the needle – takes a mere matter of minutes. However, a few minutes might be all it takes to ask a patient if there was anything else they came into pharmacy for, or if there were any ailments or issues playing on their mind. When we consider how many people don’t enjoy, or are indeed very worried about, injections it makes even more sense to ensure that we’re engaging patients with friendly conversation throughout what can be a tense few moments.
As we head into spring, it might be appropriate to ask a patient whether they suffer from hay fever symptoms and suggest appropriate treatment; or considering that the summer months may bring a return of tourism, asking them if they are stocked up on appropriate insect repellents or travel sickness remedies. Recommendations don’t need to be incongruous, and can come naturally in conversation.
We mustn’t forget that, during the pandemic, pharmacies have increasingly become the first primary care point of contact for patients. With access to GPs currently limited, patients may have delayed reporting ailments and symptoms to a GP during the pandemic. As pharmacists, we can help relieve this burden on NHS by addressing patient concerns with robust self-care advice, wherever appropriate.
Engaging and empowering
Though these small interactions might not seem to have much impact initially, they do add up and can empower patients to think more widely about how they can take better care of themselves. On a very basic level, the vaccine roll-out programme and the footfall it may bring can also give pharmacy an opportunity to reiterate the role we play and discuss whether patients understand support available for self-care. As the programme continues throughout the year, opportunities for pharmacists to have these conversations with patients will remain for a long time to come.
Beyond the impact of the individual pharmacist, what will remain important over the coming months is close collaboration between all stakeholders; the NHS, Government and suppliers and partners. In addition, now, more than ever, pharmacists need insight and support to help them navigate the biggest step-change their profession has ever faced. Working together will be essential to achieving this, and at Perrigo’s Warman-Freed Learning Pharmacy, prioritisation is placed on equipping pharmacists with the right tools, training and materials to fit our changing environment, and share real-world learnings and evidence to inform our day-to-day conversations with patients.
As well as being more readily available than a doctor, for many, pharmacists are the authentic face of the healthcare industry. In a 2015 General Pharmaceutical Council study, it was revealed that the ‘vast majority’ of people trust health advice from a pharmacist2. Let’s finally capitalise on this trust and not waste the opportunity to ignite a new national conversation on the importance of self-care.
Farah Ali is General Manager at Warman-Freed, the Perrigo Learning Pharmacy.