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.
To learn more about coronavirus, please visit: https://www.rpharms.com/resources/pharmacy-guides/wuhan-novel-coronavirus
Source: Courtesy of Jay Patel
On 16 March 2020, I was preparing for my upcoming ‘objective structured clinical examinations’, known to most as ‘OSCEs’. Just two days later, I was told my MPharm degree had been put on hold owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I don’t know how my third year will be assessed, but while my work to become a pharmacist is on pause, I knew I could still make a difference to public health.
Across the UK, members of pharmacy teams are having to self-isolate and community pharmacies are becoming short-staffed, leaving the remaining staff overworked. We can’t leave patients without their medicines, especially during the current crisis we face — our pharmacies must not close.
I was determined to use my newfound spare time to help, so I tweeted:
I am a 3rd year Pharmacy student with full NHS training. During this pandemic, university has been suspended, therefore I am based in the Macclesfield – Cheshire area.
Pharmacies are overwhelmed and I really want to help. Please share this & help me help others.
— Jay Patel (@JayP9298) March 18, 2020
The response was incredible. I was contacted by several pharmacy chains and my services were quickly snapped up by a group of local pharmacies.
I started helping out the very next day and have been doing daily shifts, from 09:00–18:00, ever since. I have settled well into my new pharmacy teams and I’m getting involved in dispensing, counter assistance and medicine reconciliation.
Students volunteering their services mean community pharmacies need not close. Younger adults, like me, seem to be at lower risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms than older adults. So I think, if we are fit and well, young pharmacy students should be doing everything and anything we can do to help our NHS while it is so overwhelmed and underfunded.
However, being on the frontline comes with its challenges.
A minority of the general public — who started by panic-buying toilet paper — have turned their attention to panic-hoarding their medicines, which has placed a massive strain on already stretched pharmacies.
I have seen people previously diagnosed with childhood asthma suddenly reordering their inhalers, ten years later, in panic. My pharmacy team is stressed and this strain, combined with the abusive patient here and there, has been difficult for them. Despite this, they are still doing everything they can to look after all patients — truly admirable.
However, we need more pharmacy students to help.
I’m working in the pharmacy full time, but I have also been involved in developing a community pharmacy job matching platform, to pair pharmacy students and professionals (volunteering or paid) to community pharmacies who desperately need their support. In just four days of going live, our volunteering site gained nearly 150 pharmacy helpers.
It is so warming to see UK pharmacy showing such solidarity during this crisis. Anything you can do will go a long way.
Jay Patel, third year MPharm student, De Montfort University, Leicester