Who would you trust?
Pharmacy and its role in Health in Ireland
Eamonn Brady MPSI of Whelehans Pharmacies in Mullingar discusses the role of pharmacy in Ireland and how it has changed both in the perception of the public and in service provision since the pandemic started in early 2020.
Pharmacists amongst the most trusted professions
In response to the question “Who would you trust to tell you the truth?” posed in early 2021 by Ipsos MRBI as part of their annual Veracity Index survey of 1000 people representing a broad cross section of Irish society, the healthcare professions of pharmacists, doctors and nurses occupied the top three places of the twenty-seven listed categories with pharmacy coming out on top at 96%. Pharmacy also topped the results in 2020.
Interestingly, politicians, social media influencers and advertising executives occupied the bottom three places.
Given that the survey was conducted a year into the pandemic, it is no surprise, given the “noise” around COVID 19, that those professions offering vital trusted healthcare service and advice lead the way whereas those who rely on spin and popular opinion to promote themselves are bottom of the league.
Community pharmacy in Ireland is a vibrant, innovative sector with 1900 pharmacies and just under 4000 pharmacists. Ireland has one of the lowest population to pharmacy ratios around at roughly 2500 per pharmacy. This in turn offers the public an extremely wide choice of pharmacy provider, with almost every town offering multiple options. The key difference from a pharmacy perspective as opposed to doctors, nurses etc is that each pharmacy is in itself a retail business and as such must compete on the high street to grow their customer base. This then, like any other business, drives the need to provide the highest level of quality and services to earn the right to gain and retain people’s business.
This success dynamic has driven the development of pharmacies to offer much more than just prescription fulfilment. Many pharmacies offer a range of ancillary services on site such as health screening, cholesterol testing, flu vaccination etc in addition to the other complementary health services such as chiropody, physiotherapy, audiology, beauty, to name but a few. The amount of expertise, help, support available in today’s pharmacy on a huge range of health conditions and issues remains unsurpassed.
Pharmacy – a true healthcare provider?
There is an obvious assumed correlation between the role of doctors and nurses and trust – we are hard wired through education from an early age that these are people that we would trust with our lives and rightly so. For pharmacists however, that assumed link in the minds of the public would not bear the same weight, even though on a day-to-day basis, the pharmacist and pharmacy would be the most common regular interaction with a health professional for most people.
Traditionally, especially when compared to doctors and nurses, community pharmacy and where it sits in the public perception of healthcare provision, would have been seen as the “Cinderella” of the health service.
As the saying goes “People’s perception is their own reality.” When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the impact of total lockdown helped change the perception of pharmacy as “managers of medicine” to the reality of pharmacy as “providers of healthcare”. As part of the fight against COVID 19 – pharmacy was fully in the front line.
Adapt and integrate
Whilst everything that was seen as traditional “high street” had to close during Covid-19 lockdowns, pharmacies remained fully open throughout, adapting quickly to the new normal and putting in place new services and ideas to serve and protect their patients and customers, who were restricted and confined to home at the time.
Despite the pandemic, people’s day to day medication needs did not change. By introducing new protocols at the pharmacy to initiate seamless change from the traditional footfall / pharmacy visit, this enabled people, especially the most vulnerable, to maintain their vital medication and self-care regimen. In addition, many pharmacies implemented online prescription upload supported by free medication delivery direct to home to offer broader support to those self-isolating or in their bubble.
With access to GP’s limited and hospitals advising “stay away” during the height of the pandemic restrictions, pharmacies and their well-trained staff quickly became mini “centres of excellence” for general healthcare advice and best practice in terms of educating the public via web, newspaper, radio, and other media on COVID management at home and in the workplace, the provision and use of PPE etc.
Despite delivering flu vaccinations at the pharmacy for many years - the successful delivery through the pharmacy channel of two full flu vaccination programmes to record numbers during the pandemic further underpinned the vital pharmacy role within the nation’s healthcare mindset.
More latterly, pharmacy rose to the challenge of delivering COVID 19 vaccinations, playing a key role in accelerating the progress of the nations “fully vaccinated” status and bringing us to where we are today.
With many of these successful outcomes, it is no surprise that pharmacy is the most trusted profession in the minds of the public.
The future is bright
Looking forward, with the government’s desire to move to a more integrated, multidisciplinary approach to health care provision through the advent of Slaintecare and other initiatives, it is certain that pharmacy will have an even stronger role to play in the delivery of the nation’s day to day health care. Ideas already adopted through pharmacy in other countries, such as minor ailment management for example, will ultimately become the norm in Ireland as the need for best use of time, place, and expertise against a burgeoning growth in healthcare need continues unabated.
Written by Eamonn Brady (MPSI), Pharmacist and owner of Whelehans Pharmacies Mullingar. For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans Pharmacies, log on to www.whelehans.ie or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore).