Mahyar Nickkho-Amiry, managing director and superintendent pharmacist at Dears Pharmacy, with 10 branches in Scotland, spoke to Rachel Carter about the challenges they’ve faced as a team during the coronavirus outbreak so far

Like all pharmacies, we’ve had an unprecedented increase in workload at incredibly short notice, and we are working tirelessly to try and meet the demands of that workload.

The surgeries are restricting access, so we are seeing more patients presenting for common clinical conditions. We have the minor ailments service here in Scotland, and the government has now announced that this will be available to everyone, thus cementing what pharmacy can do. So it’s very helpful that we can do that.

We’re also having to take on extra staff because of more delivery requests, and we’re losing one or two staff per branch each week due to self-isolation, which puts additional strain on the pharmacies.

The add-on to all of that is the challenge of getting medication in -- as we’ve had the increase in workload, so have the wholesalers. With restrictions on some of the more common drugs, like paracetamol, it’s taking us more time to search for, and find, a supplier that actually has that drug in stock.

‘We’re having to adapt and evolve’

I don’t think patients are stockpiling, but what I would say is that patients are placing their repeat requests in and the surgeries are issuing them, so we’re working through that workload. The advantage in Scotland is that we have taken a more unified approach. We’ve got our reduced opening hours to the public, which gives pharmacies time to get more work done and our teams to actually have a proper lunch break, so they can rest, refuel and recharge.

We’re also ensuring that we have social distancing in place in the pharmacies. We’ve implemented a maximum number of patients allowed into the pharmacy at one time, and a one-way system for walking in and out.

I think the work will eventually settle down to what was normal volumes, but I think the biggest challenge for us now is having to adapt and evolve to meet the needs.

We’re already working with some of our providers to create video consultation facilities, so we can talk to members of the public -- and we have our NHS-approved repeat ordering app. We’re trying to ensure that we drive those digital channels.

I would say that all the investments we have made as a group into automation, robotic technology, and so on, they are all paying dividends right now. If we hadn’t made those investments, we would, like many other pharmacies, be really, really, struggling.

‘Lack of recognition’

I have to give credit to my team: they’ve all come in and worked extra hours. They’re cancelling their holidays and they’re not taking a day off. At times it’s frustrating that everyone is recognising doctors and nurses, but sometimes they forget about the pharmacy on the high street.

We’re being asked to do more deliveries, and like a lot of pharmacies, we are offering those deliveries by making patients our first concern, but we’re doing that without any remuneration for it.

I just think ‘Go Pharmacy!’. Everyone is working flat out, and every single pharmacy is doing their level best to support the public.

I think it would just be nice if this was a good news story. Yes, we are getting and doing that additional work, but please make sure that when you are supporting businesses, that includes pharmacies.

I appreciate that some other businesses are struggling, but as pharmacies, we have a significant increase in our workload, and we’re making lots of investments to keep our businesses going. We just need to make sure that we are remunerated for that -- not now, but eventually. The government needs to make it right.