Ultan Molloy reflects on the realities and the ‘what if’ scenarios for patients and pharmacists as the Covid-19 crisis evolves, with a special nod to the ‘Covidiots’

Sweet Jesus, what to write about this month! Some of what I have spilled forth for your reading pleasure over the last number of years seems so trivial in the wake of the present Covid-19 pandemic. I did read somewhere that we were likely to be culled as a species by such an event, and as it is rapidly becoming a reality, I am more intensely feeling my humanity. Death is of course a normal part of community life, and perhaps we feel like we have more control over it than we do in order to give us a level of comfort and meaning in our day-to-day lives. A reason to get up in the morning. 

“You and me baby, ain’t nothing but mammals… ” lyrics are running through my head at this late stage on a Sunday evening. It’s Mother’s Day incidentally, and where would we be without them? Laura mowed the lawn today for the first time, when, after suggesting that I didn’t think she was able to do them, I suggested she do it if she wanted to. As it turned out, she wanted to, and disappeared for two hours. My usual trick. Walking around in circles, cutting grass, as a result of some notion about what is visually normal around a concrete house and easy on the eye, as a result of history, conditioning and other such impositions. It’s nonsense really, but what it is, is time away from the kids, and something that passes for exercise. There is also the satisfaction in completing and achieving it, of course. Sure, cutting the lawn ticks so many boxes, doesn’t it?! Laura enjoyed it, as it happens, so I may well be out of a job there, not that there’s any shortage of jobs to do around this place. 

So in the last week, the battle cry ‘don’t stockpile medicines’ has resulted in just that — ie, the first word of those three being ignored, with patients and pharmacies alike feeling that shortages are imminent. So who do you trust? The ‘don’t worry about it’ crew, who are saying the supply lines are sound, or those who say you should have extra, ‘just in case’. It has both emotional and rational inputs into the outcome, doesn’t it? 

My mother used to set the clocks 10 minutes ahead of time so that we would get up and out for school on time. The result for me now is that I’m slow to trust that others’ intentions are wholesome. This has served me well in many situations, where naivety had to be knocked on the head, but this approach doesn’t always serve relationships well as a social glue. We humans are peculiar animals, really. 

I don’t know what work will be like tomorrow as I’ve stayed away for a few days, having set the team up and closed off front-of-pharmacy. I’ve heard today that my younger brother, based in Dublin headed home to the parents for the weekend, and a friend of mine told me yesterday that he was still visiting, albeit briefly, his octogenarian parents. So my faith in humankind has yet again been tempered by these stories of stupidity, but then again, does it really matter? The UK hasn’t been particularly bothered up to now, thanks in no small part to Boris Johnson’s extensive expertise in immunology. Hubris in this case will likely cost thousands of deaths, as with the idiot President in the US, whose leadership continues to appeal to so many Americans. Now, that seriously challenges my faith in humanity. 

So the economy is likely tanking for a period of time to be determined. When my modest share portfolio went up 10 per cent in a week a few weeks back, it really should have been liquidated. Hindsight and all that. Some people are talking about buying back in, and have already, as I remember again that humans are hard-wired for optimism. The DOW had gone up over 30,000 and the ISEQ over 7,200 as China was showing us what was headed our way, and what would be needed to get it under control. Italy is now paying the price for their more individualist Western culture, rather than the Chinese collectivist mentality. Again, I think of the ‘Covidiots’ close to my heart, and those who could well have paid the price for their stupidity by the time this piece has been published. 

What if the whole financial system and landscape fundamentally changes in ways we haven’t foreseen yet? This has always been my question to the pension bods who have offered me a guaranteed 7 per cent return year-on-year, because it is has happened for the last 25 years. Well, up to now, anyway. 

Mental health is linked with economic wellbeing, so we’ll have to look out for one another and our communities even more on that front in the coming years. Some studies not so long ago suggesting that many people are still uncomfortable with hearing a ‘loved one’ or friend was feeling under the weather demonstrates an unfortunate lack of emotional maturity. Time to get over yourself if you’ve been addicted to positivity and optimism, and embrace the new reality, warts and all, and to be okay with it. Talk about it, and get some perspective. Exercise, eat well, hydrate, and find out what motivates you to do more. Tend to your family, your relationships, and of course tend to your business. 

David McWilliams talks about the central bank printing helicopter money for people to spend. Give out free money and keep the economy rolling. It can be done. David talks about bravery and leadership from those making decisions. Let’s see if the public service can defy precedent, conservatism and perhaps likely inertia and indecision. 

I hope we’re pleasantly surprised. Not so long ago, China committed to spending 30 per cent of its GDP on infrastructure projects to set them up for the future. So will we see a more instant gratification/next election approach, or an investment in Ireland’s future, and that of her citizens?

For community pharmacy, this really is the time to wow. We have an opportunity to go the extra mile, and be seen to be doing it. Increasing demands from patients in terms of attention, projection of frustration, and sheer volume of queries means that we must support our teams to deliver. These coming weeks and months will shape the future of our profession. A word of warning not to get a false sense of security behind those Perspex counters, those of us who are getting them in. Your biggest threat from Covid-19 is coming through the back door with your staff and deliveries. 

A more pragmatic approach to GMS scripts, the hospital emergency scheme and other such administrative stupidity has finally progressed, albeit temporarily perhaps, after years of inertia, apathy and a lack of leadership and vision from the PCRS. Perhaps the PCRS juggernaut has finally been set on a more helpful and progressive course, and ridiculous letters about third-party verification and signature validation will become a thing of the past. Do you want us to look after the patients with safe and effective medicines, or spend our time dicking about with relentless paperwork and administration? It cannot be both. At least not with both of them done well, in my experience. The conversation needs to move to a clear vision for the future of community pharmacy now that there is momentum. 

I hope the future will be better and brighter for our communities, our businesses and our profession at the end of the present pandemic. Let’s do what we can to shine, and to keep ourselves, our families, and our teams safe and sound in its midst.