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Almost 80% of pharmacists surveyed in one English county said that communication and working with GP practices during the COVID-19 pandemic had been “difficult and slow”.
More than 100 pharmacists in Kent responded to a survey from patient advocacy organisations Healthwatch Kent and Healthwatch Medway, which looked at how COVID-19 had affected community pharmacies in their area.
Of those responses, 78% said working with GP practices had been difficult; 92% said they didn’t receive the equipment or support they needed to cope with the first wave of the pandemic; and 72% did not feel that systems had been improved to cope with the second spike.
Shilpa Shah, chief executive of Kent Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC), said that announcements about services, such as delivery arrangements to certain groups of patients in the early stages of the pandemic, had often been reported in the media before pharmacists knew about them.
“We need to have one method of communication that people can go to,” she said. “Contractors were getting millions and millions of emails, and could not keep ahead of them.”
In the survey, more than half of respondents — 56% — said they had experienced difficulties in accessing personal protective equipment and testing for staff, and 45% felt there had been financial impacts on their business from the additional costs associated with the pandemic.
Shah said there had been a “displacement” of activity, as patients sought help from pharmacists rather than other parts of the NHS.
Improved communication with GPs and the wider NHS, especially over prescriptions, was highlighted as something that could be improved, with some pharmacists saying they had to pick up the pieces when surgeries were hard to access or did not communicate with patients over issues such as repeat prescriptions.
Shah said the LPC was now working more closely with NHS partners and that she was involved in regular “system” calls across the NHS locally — a positive which had come out of the pandemic, she said.
The LPC has also called for a minor ailments service — which runs in pharmacies in West Kent — to be extended to cover the whole of the county.
“If GPs are going to be doing things like COVID vaccinations, we need to support patients who will potentially be seen in community pharmacy,” Shah said.