European community pharmacists are in the frontline in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and they are doing everything in their power to support their patients, including in areas currently in lockdown.
This pages provides insights in the roles and commitments of community pharmacists in the fight against COVID-19 and gives an overview of useful international and national resources for community pharmacists.
Insights from community pharmacists in the frontline
Thank you, pharmacists
THANK YOU to all community pharmacists across Europe for your vital work on the front line against COVID-19!
Your professionalism & commitment towards meeting patients' needs & maintaining continuity of services in these challenging times is incredibly important & appreciated.
Video: Community pharmacists are there to take care of you - PGEU
Video: La Cruz Verde de la Farmacia no se apaga #Coronavirus - The General Council of Spanish Pharmacists
Reporting domestic violence via community pharmacies
As a response to domestic violence experienced during confinement, in a number of European countries.community pharmacies have activated protocols to help victims of domestic violence to report abuses.
More information on national/regional practices can be found here:
A heartbreaking story of an Italian pharmacist explaining the drama of having to refuse help to those who call for an emergency: almost all friends and relatives since Alzano Lombardo has just over 13 thousand inhabitants. «Sunday 8 March I worked the night shift and I had 42 calls for oxygen cylinders and I had zero cylinders. I'm not ashamed to say it but I've cried 42 times. They implored "What do I do with my husband, my grandfather, my father ... please help me", I didn't know what to answer, what to do, I had no way of helping them ".
He says it without any controversy, from the height of his eighteen years of experience in the Red Cross and with tears in his eyes when he thinks of his family, his daughter whom he hasn't seen for three weeks. «I do shifts that start at 7 in the morning and end late in the evening, I only see my daughter via Whatsapp, the same goes for my parents; I have the nightmare of being a vehicle of the virus to someone else. Here where I work, we all cry in secret, every day, in the morning when we open and in the evening when we go home. We try not to show each other to keep morale high but the situation is really difficult and people have not yet understood that they have to shut themselves up at home. "
The video is an initiative is of the Order of Pharmacists of Bari, in the South of Italy. It collects stories of pharmacists serving with great generosity their patients and helping to fight Covid19 with the message "we here we are, you stay at home ".
Speaking about the new measures to partially lift the lockdown, the President of the Order, Luigi D'Ambrosio Lettieri emphasises that "It is important not to let your guard down. People entrust us with their fears and anxieties. We read in their eyes and feel gratitude and affection in their voice on the phone. Above all they trust us. This is our fuel to multiply our efforts” .
The video has been made by the pharmacists of Lodi, in the north of Italy, to remember the efforts of pharmacists in the two months of lockdown. Images that describe, with a smile hidden by the masks, the enormous efforts that every day women and men belonging to the category of pharmacists have made by going to work to offer an indispensable service to citizens.
Home delivery of medicines:
Video: Pharmacy home delivery service made in collaboration with the Italian Red Cross
A look behind the counter of a Finnish pharmacy
In Finland, Porvoon Uusi Apteekki is one of the approximately 160.000 pharmacies in Europe working intensively on the frontline against the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The pharmacy was one the first to start compounding their own disinfecting hand gels in the pharmacy, and has been working tirelessly to support and protect their community.
"The amount of disinfectants we produce and dispense now is quite incomprehensible," explains Jari Hanski, pharmacist and owner of Porvoon Uusi Apteekki. Hanski estimates that about 70 liters of hand disinfectants are dispensed per day, although sales are limited. “If we didn't limit, the first customer of the day would surely take everything.”
Pharmacist Pauliina Tanttu compounding hand disinfectants.
Over the last couple of weeks, pharmacies have been challenged not only with the high request for disinfectants, but also with the availability of common painkillers. But according to Hanski, there was no real panic either among the customers or the staff at the pharmacy, and people seem to be well aware of the situation now.
Since pharmacy staff meet hundreds of patients every day, while striving to ensure that both their clients and staff are safe, various precautions have been taken in pharmacies to reduce the risk of infection. At Porvoon Uusi Apteekki, the customer or his goods are not touched. Each employee also thinks about how the pharmacy moves and operates with its customers. The toys on display for the children have been collected and hand disinfectants have been placed at the disposal of customers, both at the pharmacy entrance and at the counter. Staff are instructed to wash their hands, and the main contact surfaces are cleaned every two hours.
The pharmacy also offers home delivery of medicines, and the service has been used regularly.
The pharmacy staff is prepared for the worsening of the epidemic by dividing the whole group into two groups: Group A and Group B. The groups work on shift days, 12 hours at a time. This is to ensure that there is enough staff in the pharmacy, even if in one shift someone gets infected and falls ill.
“We are in constant contact with our customers, which increases the risk of infection. That's why we have split the eggs into two baskets. If someone becomes ill and the whole group is quarantined, we can still halve the other group and keep the pharmacy open with that group, ”says Hanski. At weekends, the aim is to operate at a lower level of occupation, so that both groups also get occasional weekend vacations.
Scottish pharmacists empowered to help more patients during COVID-19 outbreak
The Scottish government announced that community pharmacists are to perform an enhanced role during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Pharmacists will be able to support more patients, reducing the pressure on other parts of NHS Scotland through the extension of the Minor Ailment Service.
The Scottish Government has also accelerated plans to expand access to Emergency Care Summary (ECS) data, which mainly contains medication information, to pharmacists.
More than a thousand community pharmacies provide a range of NHS Pharmaceutical Care services on behalf of the NHS in Scotland.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said:
“The vital work of community pharmacies up and down the country is key in ensuring that we continue to reduce the burden across the NHS, and patients continue to get the necessary medicines they need to stay healthy.
“Many people visit a community pharmacy every day, with these numbers increasing in the current COVID-19 outbreak.
“This makes them the most accessible healthcare professionals on the front line of community health services, and a valuable resource to NHS Scotland.
“Strengthening the role of pharmacists, and easing some of the pressure from frontline NHS services, is therefore an important step in our wide ranging response to the current crisis.”
Irish pharmacists in the frontline against COVID-19
The Irish Times spoke to four community pharmacists based in different areas of the country to find out how they, their staff, and their patients are coping with the coronavirus outbreak.
Pharmacist Tomás Conefrey said: “Everything has changed. We now have restrictions on the number of people who can come in but customers have been so good, they don’t mind queuing outside, even though I thought it was going to be a problem.
“Stockpiling has been a bit of an issue for us, I have had a few confrontations with people about it. I had a man who wanted three months’ supply of his medication and no way was he leaving without it. We really had it out. I think that will be on ongoing problem for us as this thing continues.
“Our retail sales are way down. People are in buying over-the-counter medications and prescriptions and hand sanitiser, but they’re not buying things like skincare, for example. The male grooming section has fallen off a cliff.
“Pharmacists are so accessible for the public and, in times like this, our accessibility is a unique asset. We are on the high street, we all know our customers and it gives them that bit more reassurance.
“The staff working in the pharmacy have been helping with deliveries to people in the locality and I am very fortunate. But as it continues it will become more difficult to fund that – a grant from Government would help. Things are happening. Now doctors can send us valid prescriptions through Healthmail. I thought that was genius and we need more of that kind of thinking. The system is quite rigid and it’s rigid for good reason, but little tweaks to it will help get us through the next couple of months.”
How do pharmacists fight COVID-19 in Cantabria, Spain?
In this video of the Council of Pharmacists of Cantabria (Colegio Oficial de Farmaceuticos de Cantabria), community pharmacists explain their commitment towards providing continuity of services and care for their patients and reminding the public of the importance of complying with public health rules to protect themselves.
Providing support to community pharmacists in the frontline
PGEU members have offered national governments their wide local pharmacies network to assist the health authorities in the dissemination of information to citizens on how to prevent the spread of the virus. They have launched a series of initiatives such as training for professionals and information material directed to the general public (e.g. infographics on the correct use of masks and on how to wash hands properly).
In order to support community pharmacists with their questions and doubts around COVID-19, PGEU members have also initiated several information tools for pharmacists such as pharmacy practice guidelines, FAQ documents, and call centers. More information and examples are provided in the National Resources section below.
This video explains an example from Portugal, where the Portuguese Pharmaceutical Society has initiated a free Pharmacy Support Line. The support line is able to provide clarification on professional, technical and scientific issues among the pharmacist’ profession - Community Pharmacy, Hospital Pharmacy and Clinical Biology - and, from now on, in the area of Mental Health. Since it started operating on March 16, LAF has answered over 7.000 calls from pharmacists, most of which are related to the delivery of hospital medicines by community pharmacies or domiciliary dispensing, and other pharmaceutical services.