Throughout the last year, Northern Ireland’s community pharmacy – as with the entire community pharmacy throughout the United Kingdom – continued to provide a first-class service to its patients.

Across the province, pharmacists and their teams were the first port of call for patients, who not only had health concerns, but who were also anxious and stressed about the situation.

PiF actually spoke to one pharmacy contractor, who said that the pharmacy’s three phone lines were often constantly engaged while they and their other pharmacists spoke to patients – usually elderly – who were feeling lonely and distressed by being cut off from family and friends.

PiF totally recognises the contribution that every community pharmacy across Northern Ireland has made – and continues to make – during the pandemic, so we decided to ask the Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, for his opinion on the role that community pharmacy has played in primary care over the past year.

This is what Mr Swann told us…..

‘I welcome the opportunity to put on record my personal thanks to the community pharmacy network in Northern Ireland – for their invaluable contribution, and incredible hard work throughout this pandemic. I am very aware of the important part that community pharmacies and their teams play in delivering health services to their respective communities, given that they are undoubtedly the most accessible healthcare professionals on the front line of community health services. The vital role of community pharmacy has been made particularly evident to all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘During the current pandemic people have relied upon their local pharmacies for medicines and advice from an accessible, trusted and respected healthcare professional. Community pharmacy teams have been exceptionally valuable in supporting the public through very challenging times, and we have seen evidence of more and more people visiting their local community pharmacy every day to collect their prescriptions, and to obtain advice on general health issues and medicines. The prompt and efficient manner in which the community pharmacy network has responded to this increase in demand for medicines and advice during the emergency has been phenomenal. Like the public, I am extremely thankful to the business owners and pharmacy teams who have worked tirelessly, and quickly adapted their premises and working practices under very difficult circumstances, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic when so little was known about this virus. This has ensured that the people we serve have continued to receive supplies of their essential medicines and during what has been a period of unprecedented challenge for the whole of the Health Service in Northern Ireland.

‘Since the start of the pandemic I have provided additional funding to community pharmacies to help meet the costs of responding to COVID-19 and to allow them to continue to meet the increased demand on the crucial services they have provided. Through a collective approach with the Health and Social Care Board and Community Pharmacy NI, the representative body for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland, we have worked to support the community pharmacy network through the development of an agreed and funded commissioning plan for the delivery of community pharmacy services which meet the needs of the population. These have included an emergency supply service to maintain access to medicines, a medicines delivery service for vulnerable groups required to stay at home, and a ‘Pharmacy First’ service which provides a consultation with a pharmacist for access to advice and treatment for common conditions, avoiding the need for the public to attend other services such as GPs or emergency departments. This plan has provided a firm foundation that will enable community pharmacy teams  to play a full part in the future of the HSC in Northern Ireland and which I believe will be beneficial for the entire Health Service, pharmacies, and all those who use their services.

‘This year has also seen the first regionally available community pharmacy flu vaccination service, with nearly 15,000 health and social care workers taking advantage of the unique accessibility of community pharmacy to conveniently obtain their flu vaccine. We are now building on this success as we finalise our plans for around 350 pharmacies to support the delivery of the Community Pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination programme in the coming weeks. This is a vote of confidence in the professionalism shown by our community pharmacy teams and demonstrates that we are backing them to step up and deliver new services that will meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

‘Again, I would like to thank the community pharmacy network for everything that they have done, and continue to do, for the people of Northern Ireland, and I look forward to continuing to work with them as we navigate the challenges that lie ahead.’

Source: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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