COVID-19: What can pharmacists learn from people’s experiences of services?

Are you a pharmacist? Find out what the public thought worked well, and what could have been better when it came to the support you provided during the pandemic. 
Young female pharmacist. She is wearing a white lab coat and orange shirt. Her hair is tied back. She is holding a tablet.

Both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have generally felt satisfied with pharmacies. But there are still some areas for improvement, including raising awareness of the different services they provide.

What is working well?

Across the country, people have told Healthwatch about the positive experiences they’ve had of using their pharmacy. People particularly praised:

  • Timeslots for prescription collection.
  • Medication deliveries, which have been crucial for people self-isolating or shielding.  

“My pharmacy has really stepped up their game and deliver all items to me (restricted mobility) and my husband’s meds who is able.”
- Pharmacy user, Oxfordshire

  • Pharmacies being open while other services were difficult or impossible to access. For example, in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Healthwatch found people turning to pharmacists for flu jabs, treatments and medication discussions because of the increase in GP appointment waiting times.
  • Being able to collect or order repeat prescriptions in person.

Tackling health inequalities 

A report from Healthwatch Manchester suggests that you are providing an essential service for those who find it hardest to be heard. An investigation of Manchester’s Chinese, D/deaf and south Asian communities found that pharmacies were the most used service during the pandemic.

What improvements do people want to see?

Despite acknowledging the importance of pharmacies, not everyone has got the care they need from them.

  • Availability of medication - Many people have told us their medication has been delayed or is out of stock, sometimes because of missing or incorrect prescriptions. As a result, people are making multiple trips to their pharmacy.
  • Waiting times - People struggled with long waiting times and queues, particularly those more vulnerable or during winter.
  • Safety - Social distancing and infection control measures were not always in place or followed, leaving people feeling anxious and stressed about going to the pharmacy. For example, people told Healthwatch in Bromley, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow, Lewisham and Waltham Forest about inadequate mask and glove-wearing by staff and unclean surfaces.
  • Coordination - People experienced poor communication and coordination between pharmacies and GPs, with people finding a lack of coordination. It has then been difficult to resolve any issues caused by this.  
  • Delivery - Medication delivery has got worse or stopped completely in some areas, causing difficulties for those self-isolating or shielding.
  • Better understanding about what pharmacists can do - The main reason people use pharmacies is to get their medication. But not everyone understands the full range of services and support you offer, such as preventative advice and treatment for minor ailments. Some of the reasons people gave for not seeking support from their pharmacist first was:
    • Often being told to see their GP anyway, creating the sense that there was little point going to your pharmacist first.
    • They seemed too busy to talk, or there is no private space.
    • Not always clear on the roles, qualifications and expertise of pharmacy staff.

Pharmacists under pressure 

Like all parts of the NHS, you have been working under challenging circumstances. A report by Healthwatch Kent and Healthwatch Medway found that 92% of 101 pharmacies surveyed did not receive the information, support or equipment they needed to respond to the pandemic – especially in the first wave.

‘I feel support came too slowly, especially PPE which was extremely expensive for us to purchase and difficult to source early on and also what we initially secured from the NHS was out of date with new expiry date stickers placed over the top, which did not inspire us with much confidence!!!’
-  Pharmacy employee, Kent and Medway.

50% also said that the kind of queries they were getting had changed, particularly around advice on minor ailments, signposting, counselling and reassuring people.

Talk to us 

Want to know more? Speak to your local Healthwatch about people's experiences of pharmacies and the improvements you can make to your service. 

Find your local Healthwatch

For more information about this research contact a member of our Policy or Research and Insight team, or email CV19Enquiries@Healthwatch.co.uk