Last week, I happened to find myself inside a community pharmacy instead of writing about one.
But I wasn’t there as a patient: instead, I’d signed up as a volunteer to help Westbury Chemist — a large and busy pharmacy in the heart of Streatham — to deliver their COVID-19 vaccination service.
Offering this service was important to pharmacist Wole Ososami, the owner of Westbury Chemist. “Covid is one of the big issues of our time, and I felt the need to be part of the solution,” Wole told me. “We have a travel clinic, and we have the facilities here. So when the announcement came out for pharmacies to apply, I knew that we had the capacity and the experience to do it.”
I was also keen to take an active part in the rollout of the vaccine, in whatever small way I could. And so were my fellow locals. A 999 call handler, a finance worker and a political reporter made up just some of the volunteers, who all felt the privilege to be — at least temporarily — part of the staff getting this jab out to as many local people as possible.
It was to be a humbling experience for all of us. I’d signed up for personal reasons, not as a journalist, but being, even temporarily, on the front line made me feel like I was part of something bigger. It gave me a sense of connection to the national effort and the local community.
And as patients began to arrive for their appointments, I heard first-hand just how much this moment meant to them too. One patient told me that she hadn’t yet been able to hold her new grandchild, born last summer. Another was looking forward to, eventually, being able to visit his partner living in another country. And other patients had been isolating at home for months on end.
But among all these stories was a sense of hope. While everybody understood that they must continue to wear their mask and observe social distancing, to receive the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine represented the beginning of the long road back to normality.
As volunteers, our role was to greet patients as they arrived for their appointments; check temperatures; confirm names and dates of birth; ensure people received and read the vaccine information leaflet before having the jab; observe patients after they’d received the vaccine; and make sure they had their vaccination card with them before they left the pharmacy.
Chatting to patients throughout all this, I got a sense of how much they appreciated being able to receive their vaccination in a local community pharmacy in a familiar neighbourhood. “It’s been a blessing and a huge relief for the Streatham community,” Wole told me during a brief lull in activity. “And for me, personally, it’s been very enriching and fulfilling.”
And for the profession too. Speaking to Wole on my second day in the pharmacy, he told me that he hopes the COVID-19 vaccination programme will show the public just what community pharmacies can do. “As a pharmacist, I’ve always known that dispensing is really not what we are all about; it’s the other services. And we can offer such services on a large scale.”
Even this reporter saw the profession anew. My job is fairly easy compared with yours, isn’t it? I can work safely from home and I almost certainly don’t put in the hours that you do. I talk to pharmacists most days of the week and have a good understanding of the work that you do, and how much you care about your patients.
But seeing your work first-hand gave me a visceral sense of just how much you mean to these patients, too.