Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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Nearly nine out of ten members of the public said that pharmacists were central to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).
The survey of 1,000 members of the public, which was carried out online between 5 and 8 June 2020, found that 89% of respondents recognised the crucial role of pharmacists during the pandemic.
In response to a question asking how “essential or non-essential” members of the public “think pharmacies and chemists have been in providing health support to local communities during the coronavirus pandemic”, 59% said “very essential”, while 30% said “fairly essential”.
The survey also showed that 81% held a favourable view of pharmacists — an increase of 15% since 2016.
The NPA told The Pharmaceutical Journal that a survey in May 2016, which also asked respondents to “indicate whether [they] have a favourable, neutral or unfavourable view” of pharmacists, revealed that 66% held a favourable view.
However, the NPA said that it is unclear whether the increase in the profession’s approval rating “has been an incremental shift achieved over several years or a recent one owing to heightened appreciation for the healthcare sector due to coronavirus”.
Some 22% said their perception of pharmacies had either “definitely improved” (6%) or “somewhat improved” (16%) during the pandemic and almost half (55%) of the respondents said they had personal experience of visiting a pharmacy during the pandemic.
The findings also showed that respondents would be equally happy to receive a coronavirus vaccine at their local pharmacy (69%) or a GP surgery (70%).
When asked to choose between “mass automation, centralised dispensing and pharmacists working predominantly from GP practices or remotely” and “locally-based pharmacies … providing face-to-face advice and consultations”, only 11% of those surveyed opted for the former.
Andrew Lane, chair of the NPA, said the findings show “not only the huge public support for pharmacists to play a greater role in the future of the NHS, but also a strong attachment to neighbourhood services and the human touch in healthcare”.
Announcing the poll results, the NPA said that the sector was still negotiating with the government around financial support in England: specifically, £370m earmarked for emergency loans.
“The £370m COVID crisis loans to pharmacists must be turned into a grant before it is too late,” Lane said. “I call on the government to end the confusion around the loans and act now to save our pharmacies.”
Jackie Doyle-Price, a former health minister, said the survey “shows that the public value their face-to-face relationship with their local pharmacist, and that they have played a vital role by staying open during the COVID-19 crisis when many health services have closed”.