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View from the Frontline: the pharmacist

Adeola Ogunseitan, store manager and pharmacist at Boots’ Wimbledon Centre Court Shopping Centre branch, on being a key worker

Written by
Isabelle Aron

We’ve been feeling the effects since February. We were seeing increased footfall – clued-up customers who were looking at what was happening in other countries and stocking up on medication. There was an increase in the number of prescriptions coming in. It was like an onslaught. 

There’s been an uplift in workload but we don’t feel stressed. It’s just a bit more challenging. We get prescriptions and the doctors make a note saying that this person needs this today, so it’s someone with an underlying health condition who need it urgently. When it comes to things like that, I have to send one of my team out to deliver it. 

My branch doesn’t normally close for lunch but right now we do. We call it ‘close for lunch’ but it’s actually ‘close to clean’ because in that hour we wipe down all the surfaces in the pharmacy, on the healthcare counter, the card readers, all the screens, everything. That’s something we’ve had to get used to.

We’ve marked out two-metre distances across the shop floor. We let people into the pharmacy area and they stay on those markers. Once we have four people in, we don’t allow anyone else into the pharmacy area.

The biggest difference for me is that I know some of my customers are stuck outside waiting to come in. Normally, we never really have big queues, you could sort of multitask – collection this way, hand-in this way, advice that way, you know. We can’t do that now because we’re limiting the number of people in the store, so it takes that little bit longer to serve customers.

Sometimes the frustration comes on the part of the customer. It’s hard not to respond in the moment but we have to help them to understand that, yes, it used to take five minutes but it might take ten minutes now. You just have to remind yourself that it’s not that they woke up and decided to come and have a go at us.

We have a mantra when we deal with prescriptions: you need to think of the person behind the prescription and not just look at the paper in front of you. I use that when I’m talking to my team – you need to think of the person behind that fury. About 90 percent of the time, the next time we have contact with those customers, they end up apologising.

If people so much as have a headache now, they panic. So they come into the pharmacy and see that you’ve run out of paracetamol they’re going to take it out on the nearest person. We don’t take it to heart, we understand. Even I get worried when I get a headache now.

boots, pharmacist, view from the frontline
Photograph: Boots

We’ve had some hairy moments over the last few weeks. People come in and, from what they’re telling you, you think: oh my God, these symptoms sound so much like Covid-19 and this person is standing in my pharmacy. You’ve got your colleagues standing there and the customers standing behind them. The only thing in your head is trying to get this person out of your pharmacy as quickly as possible, but at the same time you want to give them the information that will help them.

In situations with suspected Covid-19 cases, we call 111 for them and put them in our consultation room because we’re not doing those services at the moment, so it’s like a quarantine unit. We get them in a taxi or get them home and then decontaminate the room.

People still come in because they like to have advice from a human being that they can see and converse with – not on the phone or through a video call. I’ve had someone come in who I believed was having a heart attack. He didn’t want to go to the hospital because as far as he was concerned, the hospitals are overrun with Covid-19 patients. I said to him: look, even if they are taking Covid-19 patients, they’ve segregated them, so they’re not roaming the corridors of the hospital. He thought he’d be better off just getting advice from me, but I had to send him in a taxi to A&E. 

We have older people who come out of their houses on walkers just to come and chat at the pharmacy, it’s like a social outing for them. They get up and think: I want to talk to someone, so they come for a chat. We say no, no, no, you can’t be out yet, you need to go back home!

We have quite a number of elderly people whose children are nowhere near here. We look after a couple whose children are in Australia and in the Far East. By the time every country went into lockdown, none of them could come back to look after their parents, so we get everything delivered for them. We keep getting calls from their children to say thank you for looking after them. It’s nice to get those calls.

I’m the only one from my household who is coming out to work, so I’m very conscious of not taking anything back home – washing my hands and washing my clothes, things like that. We all think about it. But if we aren’t here, how will people get their medication? It doesn’t matter how great the consultation is with the doctor, if you don’t get the medicine on time, it all comes to nothing. That’s what keeps the team going. 

Our supply chain is fine now. Everybody was panic-buying and stocking up on everything in sight but now it’s pretty much returned to normal, we’ve got hand gels, vitamins, paracetamol – what I call the ‘Covid range’.

On the shop floor, it’s things like hair dye and hair clippers that we seem to be running out of now, because the salons are not open. The hair clippers are flying off the shelves. Also, face marks – not PPE but skincare masks. People come to the till with 13 types of mask. I guess they’ve got time on their hands! 

We’re taking more calls than ever – the phone rings off the hook now. We’ve got a dedicated member of the team to stay on the phone on a daily basis now. People want advice.

Now people actually say things like: thank you for coming to work. The first time a customer said it I thought well, I normally do come to work, this is not new for me! But I can understand when people say thank you, because the risk is there, every day you come in. There’s only so much you can be protected [against]. It’s nice to hear when people say thank you. It gives me a warm glow and I think, yes, I can do this.

Want more stories from the frontline? Read our interviews with a St John Ambulance volunteer and a supermarket worker. 

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