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Reflections from the PDA on covid-19 pressures

The PDA (Pharmacists’ Defence Association) is the largest pharmacist membership organisation and the only trade union exclusively for pharmacists in the UK. The PDA looks after the interests of individual pharmacists, pharmacy students and pre-registration trainees. We caught up with PDA Head of Organising & Engagement, Collette Bradford, for insight into how the PDA has supported members during the pandemic.

 

I lead the PDA field-based team of Regional Officials (pharmacists) who look after our Regional Committees, deliver workshops for students, and give guidance or represent pharmacist members with problems at work. I also manage our team of union professionals; our organising and education staff who recruit, engage, develop and support PDA members and reps such as our equality networks, delivering CPD, conferences and events.

It’s been a hectic and stressful time for our pharmacist members working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists have been working long hours, with huge workloads in stressful work environments. In addition to this, many have been putting their lives at risk to serve and treat patients ‘face to face’ since GP practices and A&E departments closed their doors and narrowed their public facing services. Our pharmacist members in hospitals have been supporting patients, Drs, and nurses on COVID-19 patient wards and in care homes too.

Certainly, during the early weeks our pharmacists were working without adequate PPE and without the equality of support provided to other healthcare workers, so the PDA has had a critical role to pay in raising pharmacist issues and concerns with government and appropriate stakeholders alongside providing employment advice and pastoral care for members at this challenging time.

The PDA helped to secure appropriate PPE, led the demand for death in service payments for pharmacists, provided ID cards for supermarket slots, and relaunched our long-standing campaign to reduce violence and abuse in pharmacies, which sadly, reared its ugly head again as patients became frustrated and anxious when COVID-19 secure systems were implemented.

In addition to the risks and pressure at work, many pharmacists are dealing with issues and challenges at home too and that is before they even try to plan travelling to work safely, manage safety in pharmacies and look after patient’s health. At times, the stress and pressure of working during COVID-19, with the uncertainty a new and unknown virus brings, has been palpable during our telephone conversations and representations with members.

At the PDA we have focused significant resources on dealing with the issues, concerns, and support for new professionals; our student and pre-reg members who were thrown into unchartered waters. For students, their lectures, study and exams rapidly moved online with university pharmacy schools working very hard to support students including 4th years with their final examinations.

We have guided our student members and made recommendations and representations where appropriate to pharmacy schools directly to ensure fair treatment and targeted support for all students. We have also supported hundreds of pre-regs 121, through our pre-reg webinar, regular communications and in focus groups following the GPhC decision to postpone the June assessment process, moving towards a one year Provisional Registration for those eligible in 2020/2021; leaving those who are not eligible feeling very much abandoned.

The PDA received hundreds of emails and requests for 121 telephone conversations around pre-reg individual and collective issues as they sought to make sense of the new processes and find their way forward. As part of our support the PDA produced a Charter for Provisional Registration which sets out the principles we expect employers to follow when they employ a provisionally registered pharmacist and provides a framework to discuss with prospective employers at interview.

Prov-regs should feel that they can raise issues early, be confident to work within their competencies and know that the PDA is here to support them every step of the way; from indemnity insurance, to employment advice, to professional support and professional development opportunities. PDA membership is important to bring them peace of mind at the beginning and throughout their careers.

My personal advice to all students, pre-regs and prov-regs is to try not to worry about the things you cannot change or influence; to focus on the elements of your study, training life and career that you do have control of. Safe practice at work and taking some time for study, but also include exercise, meeting friends and good food to nurture yourself and help to manage stress.

Join the PDA and use the organisations within pharmacy who are here to help and support you. Get involved in the PDA, we have rep roles where we engage, listen, support and take your views directly to the decision makers – you have a strong voice and with the help of the PDA you have influence to shape your career progression and your profession. This is an empowering opportunity.

 

The PDA is a valued ACTNow Sponsor, recognising the need to champion and support the wellbeing of those working and studying in the pharmacy sector. Click here to find out more about the PDA and their ACTNow Sponsorship.