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As we slowly emerge from lockdown, perhaps it’s time to count our blessings, writes Ultan Molloy

As the lockdown loosens, and we open up the front of house again, there’s been a palpable sense of relief over the last week in the pharmacy. While we have Perspex screens up, distancing markers, hand sanitisers, posters, a comprehensive cleaning rota and the staff all wearing masks, things feel like we’re coming out the far side of this. Or at least we are getting comfortable with our ‘new norm’ for now. What will play out over the coming months remains to be seen, with us all the while missing the fine company of family and friends in both the UK and Australia. 

Wearing masks hasn’t really caught on out West here. I have them for work of course, and keep others in the car for when I’m going into shops or supermarkets. I feel the looks of some who aren’t wearing them, perhaps judging ‘he’s a bit self-righteous’, with us others who are wearing masks throwing looks of ‘fair play to us. Aren’t we being the best boys and girls’. I think the most recent advice is to wear them, although that has changed a few times over the last few months. You’d think that we’d clearly understand the science behind the use of masks in terms of managing the spread of aerosolised viral particles at this point, given their use for decades in hospital settings. Much like Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis in the 1840s, who championed hand-washing and was shunned by colleagues for same, we appear to have health professionals one week advising there’s no need for masks, and later saying masks should be used, especially in confined areas. I wonder would the same public health leaders have struggled with the move to hand-washing, or have clung on to the belief that illness was a bodily imbalance caused by bad or evil spirits, were they back in the 1840s. 

At time of writing, next week brings the opening of a local crèche. Having thoroughly enjoyed intensive parenting of three children under 4 for the last three months, no doubt Laura and I will be crying and gnashing our teeth as they are ripped from our loving arms this coming week for three days. Three whole days. What will we do with all of that time? Well, I’ll tell you what we will do. A few things that don’t involve having to consider our lovely baby and toddlers. Maybe catch up on sleep for two of the days seems like a good plan at this stage. Then get a haircut, clean the house, iron a few shirts for work and catch up on a mound of paperwork. I’m more than a little excited at this prospect (other than the paperwork, mind you!). As the saying goes, ‘how can I miss you if you don’t go away?’ 

The pharmacy situation is reasonably good, although will be a little disrupted again, with someone texting me as I write that they’ll be off for the next week or so. Uncontrolled asthma, and possibly ‘something’ on an x-ray, was the diagnosis a few weeks back. ‘Something on your x-ray.’ Off you go. And having had an asthma attack again yesterday evening and making it to A&E after 10 or so puffs of Ventolin, it beggars belief why she wasn’t prescribed a long-acting bronchodilator/steroid inhaler on the previous presentation, rather than being sent packing previously with her comprehensive diagnosis of ‘something’ and a Ventolin. 

Assertiveness, and asking for what one needs, doesn’t come readily to many of us. Is there a belief on some level that we are really that unreasonable, or that we don’t want to be perceived as unreasonable? If this sounds like I’m blaming our fantastic team member, I am not. I am annoyed at the way she has been cared for, while bearing in mind that there may be some details which I am missing. Would you accept this care and outcome for yourself, or one of your loved ones?

One of our customers in Ballyhaunis lost her 17-year-old daughter six weeks ago to what were claimed to be complications relating to her heart condition and contracting Covid-19 as an inpatient, although I do not know this (lest I receive a solicitor’s letter through the post). Our local hospital’s Covid stats didn’t cover them in glory relative to our Galway neighbours, although one could reasonably assume that it was primarily community transmission in Mayo that resulted in these cases. 

Back to those silly-looking masks again, and while I’m sure there were people washing their hands who never washed their hands before, there were still some who held the line and didn’t engage in such uncouth behaviour. The dead child’s father claimed at the counter that they believe there had been some degree of medical negligence, and their correspondence has been met with a wall of silence. No explanation, apology or engagement. He is a man of modest means and communication skills. I am somewhat ashamed as I write this. The quote, ‘A true measure of a society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’ comes to mind. 

Admission of liability, fear of being sued, and loss of reputation have been shown as the main reasons why medical professionals tend to shy away from apologies to patients. You know the GP in your locality who is never wrong? We had one individual who would leave people off medicines at times rather than admit an error. Infallibility is an unreasonable expectation of healthcare professionals by anyone. It’s a rejection of our humanity. Interestingly, claims against hospitals and healthcare professionals are dramatically decreased where open disclosure is the policy. Where engagement, openness, taking responsibility, communication and apologies are the norm. 

We had our first WhatsApp team meeting yesterday morning and it wasn’t a disaster. Somewhat of a success, really. We will have further opportunities in the coming months to up our game in terms of our relationships with patients and other stakeholders in primary and secondary care. Pressure on margin, turnover, and wage inflation in the last few years, I hope will now give way to a focus on what is in our control, how we work together, and how we can bed-in further into our communities and deliver on our values and purpose. Our team’s appetite for flexibility and adaptability, and pulling together to keep the doors open and customers and patients cared for over the last three months, has been impressive. I would like to think that this attitude of ‘we’re in this together’ will continue through the coming months and years in our workplaces and communities.

I hope you’re starting to recharge and enjoy your summer by the time you’re reading this. We are some of the lucky ones in a country with 28 per cent unemployment overall, and up to 50 per cent among younger people, so now, more than any other time, is a time to count our blessings. Perhaps we can start to feel more positive about the future of pharmacy, about demonstrating our value and fulfilling our potential in our communities, but that’s something for next time.

Ultan Molloy
Ultan Molloy

Ultan Molloy is a business and professional performance coach, pharmacist, facilitator and development specialist. He works with other pharmacists, business owners and third parties to develop business strategies.