Alitam pharmacies have risen to the challenge of the pandemic, changing the healthcare landscape for good.

In a year in which almost every family has suffered loss due to Covid-19, and endured untold psychological damage, there has been one saving grace: the community pharmacist. Masterfully rising to the multifarious challenges of this unforeseen crisis (and often putting themselves at considerable risk), Alitam pharmacists have thrown open their doors when other healthcare providers stayed firmly shut. They’ve served a population bereft of clinical contact, unable to see their GPs or visit A&E, and done so with the utmost expertise and care. Across the UK and Ireland, the yawning gaps in the current healthcare system were highlighted and, as pharmacists filled them, a new model of healthcare based around the community pharmacist has arisen.

Humility and professionalism

As the founder of Alitam, I’m privileged to see first hand the talent and devotion of our community pharmacists. Even before the pandemic, many of our pioneering pharmacies had evolved to become the ‘well-being hubs’ of their community, offering everything from expert clinical advice and treatments to preventative healthcare and high-quality nutrition and beauty supplies. All with the care and familiarity that a dedicated pharmacy team can uniquely offer. Many pharmacies have been caring for three generations of a family, intimately understanding their needs and, often unvoiced, concerns.

Enter Covid-19 and, overnight, our healthcare system was on its knees. The daily news broadcast images of hospitals with no beds, almost all appointments were cancelled and the prevailing mood was of panic. GPs closed their surgery doors, able to see only urgent cases, but often unable to offer any online consultations. Huge swathes of our population could no longer access their usual source of clinical care. Mental and physical health was on the decline.

But with characteristic humility and professionalism, our pharmacists rose to the challenge; doing what they always do, but now to an astonishing degree.

An extraordinary contribution

The lengths our pharmacists have gone to are extraordinary. In the beginning, of course, pharmacists themselves were unaware of the level of risk, but opened six days a week anyway. Many offered a 24/7 service, ensuring no patient ever went without their medicine. They faced staff shortages due to illness and
self-isolation, and often relied on family members for cover so the needs of their community could be met. They faced PPE shortages too, and spent a great deal of time sourcing face masks, hand gel and gloves. Nevertheless, they ramped up their free delivery service, often delivering up to a 10-mile distance. Many pharmacists made local deliveries on foot at the end of the working day.

With a high proportion of pharmacies integrated into healthcare centres, it’s no surprise these became the linchpins of community healthcare. GP calls were diverted to pharmacies who could access clinical records and directly treat patients where necessary. One Alitam member reports a 40% increase in workload as GPs relied on his expertise. The deep gratitude expressed by GPs and other healthcare practitioners is testament to the size of the undertaking.

The benefits of technological innovations deployed throughout our stores have been felt like never before. Dispensing robots, automated dispensing machines and apps for online consultations have all enabled our pharmacists to spend more time looking after patients. One member is even pioneering the use of drones for prescription delivery.

Then of course there’s the vaccination program, which many Alitam members can join thanks to the size of their stores. Due to the sheer determination to protect their communities, busy pharmacists tackled the paperwork and training, and overcame many obstacles. With comprehensive Covid-19 testing also available in store, they’re providing enormous reassurance to customers far and wide.

Constancy in a crisis

Perhaps of paramount importance is customers’ reliance on the familiar figure of a pharmacist they trust. There’s huge gratitude for the constancy of contact, the caring tone, the unwavering source of support. This is the utterly unique contribution made by pharmacists and their teams, providing vital succour to needy communities. Its value is unquantifiable but strongly felt, and cannot be replicated elsewhere.

An eye-opening opportunity

On an unprecedented scale, the variety of clinical services provided by pharmacies – encompassing everything from UTI checks, sore throat clinics, blood tests and emergency contraception to diabetes and cardiac health screening – has eased the burden on state healthcare. Forced away from other points of access, customers’ eyes have truly been opened to the scope of pharmacies’ offering. It’s been there all along, but is now reaching so many people that perceptions are changing – among HCPs, governing bodies and the public at large. Pharmacies are now seen as the cornerstone of community healthcare, catching many issues before they develop in severity and contributing to the overall well-being of locals.

‘I had no idea you could do all this!’ is a familiar refrain heard by Alitam pharmacists. Covid-19 has allowed them to demonstrate the value of bricks-and-mortar pharmacies like never before. The future for pharmacies, and for all of us lucky citizens under their aegis, is incredibly bright.

About Feisal Nahaboo

Founder of the OMMG, is known as ‘the man who has awakened a sleeping accountancy profession and now the pharmacy industry’. Feisal has spent much of his earlier career revolutionising accountancy practices by helping them offer services beyond compliance. He has also stimulated growth in several sectors by advising and coaching tens of thousands of SME commercial businesses. Feisal is a highly coveted speaker at wealth management events across the UK. He has partnered and presented alongside some of the worlds greatest thinkers including Dr Stephen Covey.