How COVID-19 has transformed community pharmacies


Reshma Malde of John Bell & Croyden on how the pandemic has reshaped the role of community pharmacies and increased public understanding of their value

Early this year, John Bell & Croyden – holder of a royal warrant as pharmacy to Her Majesty the Queen – was among the first of hundreds of community pharmacies to be chosen as a COVID-19 vaccination site in an effort to help the NHS accelerate the biggest vaccination programme in its history.

All eyes remain on the vaccine rollout, with a total of over 40 million adults in the UK having received their first dose, almost 30 million having received a second dose, and these numbers rising rapidly each day. In England, the vaccine is currently being offered in some hospitals and pharmacies, at local centres run by GPs as well as larger vaccination centres dotted across the country. To date, John Bell & Croyden – which carried on dispensing medicines through two world wars and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic – has administered over 13,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to patients from across London.

Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, community pharmacies that work on the frontline of healthcare have grasped the opportunity to fill crucial care gaps and drive forward revolutionary changes in pharmacy practice. By providing drive-through services, remote consultations and COVID-19 testing, and more recently being invited to support the NHS’s vaccination programme, pharmacies up and down the country kept their doors open even as GPs were forced to shut – offering advice and guidance in a unique and vital way and enabling the public to see their true value.

The John Bell & Croyden pharmacy in the Harley Street Medical Area

Amazing progress
Reshma Malde, superintendent pharmacist at John Bell & Croyden, says: “One of the most valuable developments during the pandemic has been the way pharmacists have branched out to learn so many new skills to support our customer base. Testing has been one of those critical areas. Today, life-saving coronavirus vaccinations are being administered by hundreds of community pharmacists. This is amazing progress.”

“Community pharmacies have already been providing NHS flu vaccinations in England and Wales, so are well trained for this, and it’s certainly reassuring that our medical expertise is being put to use and our role within primary care and as frontline workers is recognised at this time of crisis.”

On 30th January, as part of the rollout of the NHS’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, the historic pharmacy emporium turned vaccination site ramped up its efforts in the fight against COVID-19 by inoculating its very first patients against the virus.

The vaccination reception at John Bell & Croyden

Adapting quickly
Starting on 30th January, John Bell & Croyden, which opened in 1798, was initially providing vaccines to 800 people a week, but this quickly rose to 1,200 – at an impressive rate of one patient every seven minutes. The pharmacy has been able to support this vital work by adapting quickly and introducing a number of new safety measures – new signage, single flow systems, sanitising areas – as well as equipping their crew with the necessary PPE.

Reshma adds: “The pandemic may have put our skills to the test – but it has also allowed pharmacists to show their true potential and allowed customers to see that they exist as a crucial entity capable of addressing their health needs, scares and concerns. Pharmacists have always been the most accessible healthcare provider and at a time of stretched resources have shown we can help to support the efficiency of our healthcare system.

“Getting the green light to be part of the COVID-19 rollout and provide such a vital service to our local community – and support the NHS – has been a true recognition of our wider role within care in providing essential services to those who need it.”

A recent survey by PAGB, the consumer healthcare association, found that 31% of us who would not have visited a pharmacy for advice previously are now more likely to do so before seeking help elsewhere. As restrictions begin to ease, this points to a dramatic shift in public perception of the important role pharmacists can continue to play within community care.