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Reflections on the old year and wishes for the new

Five pharmacists talk about the ways they coped with the difficulties of 2021, the positives they took away from what was another challenging year, and their hopes and wishes for 2022.

Community support and camaraderie with colleagues, time with family and friends, listening to music and going for long walks — just some of the ways pharmacists coped with the challenges of 2021.

After the pressures of 2020, it was hoped that 2021 would be less demanding – but the difficulties continued and the new Omicron variant means even more uncertainty in the coming year.

However, along with the challenges of the pandemic have come positives, our pharmacists say, from the success of the Covid vaccination rollout and a strong sense of community spirit, to a greater awareness of mental health in the profession and society as a whole.

Here they share what has got them through 2021, the positives they have taken away, and their hopes and wishes for the new year.

Claire Anderson

  • President, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

"Being part of a really good team within the RPS and having the support of great colleagues helped get me through 2021. So did being able to continue in my role as professor at the University of Nottingham school of pharmacy. It is amazing how the students have adapted to hybrid working and it has been a privilege seeing so many of them working in pharmacies doing Covid-19 vaccinations.

"Pharmacists have shown the major positive impact they can have on patient care. The public, the Government and indeed society at large now have a better view of pharmacists and there is increased recognition of their role. The way they’ve supported the vaccination rollout while carrying on their routine work, doing 'business as usual', has been incredible.

"What has also helped me get through is that I live in a beautiful place like Oxford where I go for long walks and cycle every day. 

"In 2021, through my RPS work, I became more aware of the importance of mental health and wellbeing, resilience, and the need to do more to prevent burnout. The RPS health and wellbeing survey (rpharms.com/recognition/all-our-campaigns/workforce-wellbeing) shows just how many pharmacists are at risk of burnout, which is really worrying.

"In 2022, I’d like to see greater investment in community pharmacy in education and training, and recognition of how pharmacists can play a major role in NHS recovery, including the increased use of pharmacist independent prescribers. Protected learning time is also important and that people are allowed to take rest breaks to prevent burnout.

"Personally, I hope to have more face-to-face meetings and to travel more again."

Lila Thakerar

  • Superintendent pharmacist, Shaftesbury Pharmacy, Harrow

"What’s got me through 2021 is my excellent team, who have given me the determination to keep going. On a personal level my family has been marvellous and I’m very fortunate to have an excellent circle of friends, who make sure I rest and take a break. To unwind I enjoy listening to music while I’m driving – that’s my 'me' time.

"A positive I’ve taken away from 2021 is that there is a greater knowledge and awareness of the need for mental health support for our patients, particularly the older and the vulnerable. What we have seen over the past year has helped me to realise what help is needed out there and how desperate people can feel.

"For 2022 I’d like to see better funding and more support for pharmacies, which are going through a terrible situation with regards to staffing levels during the pandemic. When Covid started in March 2020 I thought it was a short-term situation but we are almost two years down the road and things haven’t improved.

"We are providing more and more services and, if anything, our workload has increased. To balance this we need to reduce what is expected of us. I’d like to see a cut to all red tape so our role can focus on providing pharmacy services rather than having to fill in forms and submit data to the NHS.

"And personally – I’m wishing for a little bit more time for myself and my family."

Reena Barai

  • Community pharmacist contractor, SG Barai Pharmacy, Sutton

"We became a vaccination site in May 2021, which has probably been the best thing I’ve ever done in my career, and the most challenging. It is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I’ll look back with pride that I played a part in the vaccination programme, and the whole team has been a credit – they’ve all stepped up to the challenge.

"What I’ll take away from 2021 is how grateful people are to have us at the Covid vaccination site. Some say we don’t need bricks and mortar pharmacies – that pharmacy can be done online with robots and machines – but the human connection we’ve created with thousands of patients who have been vaccinated has been something that is irreplaceable.

"I’ve been so impressed with the army of 40 volunteers who have given up their own time for the greater good to help us with the vaccination programme rollout – their kindness has really kept me going.

"What’s also got me through is that I like to do random acts of kindness every day, such as spending that bit longer talking to a patient.

"I read with sadness the results of the RPS wellbeing survey and how many people were wanting to leave the profession. So, for the profession in 2022, my wish is that people find the joy again in community pharmacy. I also want to support and mentor more women to release their 'inner leaders' and put themselves forward for leadership positions.

"And I would like to have that elusive ‘more time at home than work’. It is my annual wish. One day it might happen!"

Sid Dajani

  • Community pharmacist contractor, Wainwrights Chemist, Bishopstoke

"Covid has been so tough and such a steep learning curve but we pulled together, learned a lot, and worked hard to keep on an even keel.

"What gave me hope to carry on was putting my skills to best use, working with people and professionals like never before in a multidisciplinary way, having continued solidarity with the community, and believing the vaccines were our hope of a way out to a new future. People looked to us for help as clinicians – we proved we were more than just about medicines, and we never let them down.

"When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will show that the frontline is where all the action is, where the best ideas come from and where the real work is done.

"As surgery doors and businesses closed around us, pharmacies became the frontline in 2020 and we stayed there throughout 2021. We exceeded all expectations, showed great local leadership and lived up to our promises.

"We will have to wait to see if the politicians can live up to theirs and treat us with the recognition we deserve on a par with the medical profession, strategically and financially."

Ade Williams

  • Lead pharmacist, Bedminster Pharmacy, Bristol

"It has been uplifting to see a greater sense of collective camaraderie in pharmacy. We’ve been able to rally round more than ever before and to hold each other up.

"I’ve found so much encouragement and support from our local community too – the way that people reached out to let us know as a team that we really matter to them, and the thoughtful actions they perform to help to lessen the burden on us.

"To get through the year I’ve tried to find humour where I can and look for things that make me laugh – it does a lot to help put things in perspective.

"A positive I’ll take away from 2021 is the success of the Covid vaccination programme – it has been such a barometer of pharmacy’s abilities. During the vaccination campaign we’ve had a rota of volunteers from the community from day one – they didn’t want us to get overwhelmed. That reminds you of the uniqueness of the NHS in that you are not just providing care to people but are part of the community.

"In 2022 I want to be able to slow down. The pandemic has led to me developing an overwhelming sense of responsibility for trying to make sure the community is safe. I wish that the all-prevailing risk of Covid would not be there so I can say that we are going to be ok."

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