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COVID-19 and opportunities for the future

During 2020, COVID-19 has consumed our lives. Hospital pharmacists worldwide have faced huge challenges and many of us have modified our practice in order to guarantee optimum care and support for our patients. Now, six months on, and while the number of coronavirus confirmed cases is still increasing, pharmacy services have returned to ‘normal’ or are moving towards preparing for a new wave. 

The pandemic has resulted in hardship for many of us, by impacting all aspects of our professional and personal lives. It has put pressure on hospital pharmacies in general and especially on those working in centres where COVID-19 patients were treated, but it has also shown us how we can adapt quickly and efficiently to the changing climate. We can all attest that hospital pharmacists have served as valuable partners in the wider healthcare multidisciplinary team. It’s hard to predict how life will be in a post-COVID-19 world. Nevertheless, many of us have started to realise that the pandemic has revolutionised pharmacy practice in positive ways, which have enriched us as healthcare professionals by what we have learned during this unprecedented experience. 

It is fair to reflect upon the various healthcare lessons of the lockdowns while considering the changes we might want to adopt in the near- and longer term.Here are just a few ideas and examples.

Expanded roles

Even before the pandemic, drug shortages were a global issue. The pandemic, however, generated a spike in the number of critically ill patients, which further contributed to pre-existing shortages. It revealed problems in the global production and trade of drugs, as medication flows between Member States and countries have been disrupted and have led to fragilities in the supply chain. Policies in which hospital pharmacists were involved in developing have been established by national governments or individual hospitals to solve these issues. As decisions had to be made on the spot to resolve problems quickly, creativity and flexibility were absolute requirements. 

New services introduced by pharmacy teams, including pharmacy technicians (such as development of new skills in aseptic preparations for use on COVID-19 wards and supporting critical care areas where nursing staff resources have been tight) are now being considered for long-term implementation.

Online meeting formats work

Attempts to provide virtual meetings have sometimes been received or gone poorly in the past, but team members have now adapted to these challenges and practicalities. Remote working is now commonplace for staff members (depending on their job function). Many of us agree that remote working, in a well-balanced format, is here to stay alongside face-to-face contact as appropriate.

Staff well-being

Finally, we should continually reflect on all the positive experiences we have gained during this time, such as the gratitude of our patients in care. Breaking down barriers to change is not always easy, but challenging situations often lead to new, improved realities and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. It has forced us to adapt to new situations and has very clearly shown that we have the potential to boost healthcare. 

Our role as recognised healthcare providers can contribute to develop policies pertaining to workplace safety, disease managements and patient safety, and we need to continue to be part of these dialogues at national and international levels. Now is our time more than ever.

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