“That was the year that was”

Pharmacy’s response to the Covid crisis has been hugely impressive. The question is — what happens now? By Richard Thomas.

Can you remember those heady, far-off days of early March 2020 BC (Before Coronavirus)? The world seemed a simpler place back then before pharmacies across the land were suddenly hit by a deluge of requests for masks, paracetamol and hand sanitiser, and the wheels nearly came off.

Except they didn’t. As the health service threatened to crumble around them, community pharmacy teams held their nerve and under relentless pressure kept their doors open for patients. It was humbling to witness and, for us, the stand-out story of an extraordinary year. Pharmacy delivered – as it always does – but at what cost?

Rishi Sunak has been splashing the cash, money no object, although contractors in England are yet to see a penny. It is disgraceful that the extra costs incurred by pharmacies during the pandemic have still not been covered or the £370m of advanced funding written off. It’s a drop in the Covid fiscal ocean. Meanwhile, as deputy editor Arthur Walsh writes in the December issue of Pharmacy Magazine, the sector is facing a mental health and wellbeing crisis of alarming proportions.

However, it hasn’t all been bad news in 2020. GP referrals into the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service could be a game changer. Pharmacists knocked flu jabs out of the park and could do the same with Covid-19 vaccinations if given the chance. In Scotland the Pharmacy First service has been a great success and prescribing plans everywhere are gaining momentum.

However, in England especially, progress risks grinding to a halt without fair and sustainable funding. As the NHS learns the lessons of the pandemic, surely now is the time for ministers to build on pharmacy’s proven capability, resilience and adaptability to transform primary care. To be blunt, it’s now or never.

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