Covid-19 and the need for social distancing for patients has forced a pharmacy in Northern Ireland to move to new premises in preparation for winter, to ensure more space for patients to wait inside.

Siobhan McNulty - who has owned Melvin Pharmacy for 11 years – found that social distancing in her pharmacy in Garrison, Northern Ireland, was becoming difficult to maintain as colder, wetter days arrived in recent weeks.

Like many smaller pharmacies across the UK, Ms McNulty’s pharmacy had only enough space for one person at a time - meaning many people were left outside to queue - which she could see had become a big issue.

‘I could see patients getting a bit cranky, and they were already worried by Covid-19.’

The new pharmacy, located across the road, is four times as large as the previous premises and has a capacity of up to six patients at any one time.

‘We had wanted to move our pharmacy for ages,’ she said. ‘Covid-19 gave us the incentive we needed.’

Protection against Covid-19

The relocation has also allowed the construction of a two-doored Covid-19-friendly consultation room with a Perpsex divider and separate entrances for the patient and pharmacist.

‘The way it’s designed means that I can still see patients I fear may have Covid-19 symptoms, which is good,’ she explained.

The consultation room - still in construction - will allow a pharmacist to enter the room from a door behind the counter, while a patient will only be able to enter from the door on the pharmacy shop floor. Both patient and pharmacist will sit facing one another while protected by a movable perplex screen, which is easily removable for if the pharmacist needs to perform a procedure on the patient.

Patients will have their temperature checked before entering the consolation room and will be asked to wear a mask.

‘None of this was rocket-science’, Ms McNulty said, ‘it was all just trial and error. We saw what did work in our last pharmacy and what didn’t and just designed our new pharmacy based on that.’

Other safety features include a built-in Perspex screen which fits perfectly around the counter top. And like other pharmacies, Ms McNulty has also carefully marked out the floor so that patients are aware there is a one-way system.

According to Ms McNulty, the relocation has gone down ‘really well’ with patients and her staff. ‘I think everyone just feels a lot safer now,' she said.

‘I have one member of staff who has an immunocompromised daughter. It’s great now to have enough space behind the counter so that staff can practise social distancing between one another, which they really couldn’t in our last pharmacy,’ she added.

She also hopes that allowing more people into the pharmacy will increase revenue.

‘We’ve been very busy throughout lockdown, but I think the refit will help business a lot. Just having a place to offer a patient shelter and see a friendly face is going to bring and keep patients with us, whereas if you have to make them stand outside you’re more likely to drive them away - especially as it begins to get colder.’

Cameras in the car park

In preparation for the winter flu vaccine programme, Ms McNulty has also installed cameras to monitor the pharmacy's car park. ‘This is just so that patients who want the vaccine but don’t feel comfortable enough to come into the pharmacy can call us from their car’, she said. 

The flu vaccination programme in Northern Ireland officially launches 1 October, almost a month after the English programme begins.

As elsewhere in the UK, the flu vaccination programme in Northern Ireland has been expanded to include household contacts of those who received shielding letters during the Covid-19 pandemic, school children up to Year 8 and staff in independent care homes.