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Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Joint communication to pharmacists, pharmacy owners and staff from the PSI President and Registrar

March 12, 2020

All of us are concerned about the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland. While there are still many uncertainties as to what will happen over the coming weeks, we all know that there are significant challenges ahead. Pharmacists in community and hospitals, and their pharmacy teams, will be on the frontline in supporting patients and the public during this challenging period. In the interests of clarity and of allaying any anxiety that pharmacists may have as to the role of the regulator during this time, we have five key messages which we want to highlight. We would also ask that pharmacists in leadership and supervisory positions would share this communication with their pharmacy team colleagues.

Reliable and accurate information: The Department of Health and HSE are leading on the national response to COVID-19. The websites of the Department of Health, HPSC and HSE contain the most up-to-date information on the current position in Ireland together with information on how to protect yourself and others. Pharmacists and pharmacies (including pharmacy websites) will be relied upon by patients and the public for reliable and accurate information. All information provided to patients and the public must be based on that issued by public health authorities. Pharmacists, as accessible and trusted health professionals, have a key role in disseminating, promoting and explaining this information to the public, recognising that some patients will be particularly worried and vulnerable at this time.

Detailed planning: Extensive planning around public health protection and continued healthcare delivery, including medicine supply, is led by the Department of Health. Together with colleagues from other public bodies, PSI is playing a full role in this planning effort. There is no evidence to suggest that Ireland is likely to face general medicine supply issues now, or in the near future, as a result of any potential delays in the supply chain, caused by COVID-19 related issues. However, pharmacists have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that this remains the case through their responsible, professional and ethical actions in respect of medicine supply to patients. We acknowledge that pharmacies are also planning how best to ensure that their patients have continued access to safe and reliable pharmacy services. We encourage all pharmacists to develop their plans in partnership with patients, each other, their employers and other healthcare professionals, based on the guidance available from public health authorities. As this outbreak develops, PSI will ensure that key information is communicated to pharmacists and pharmacies in a timely and supportive manner, including updates on our website. We understand that supportive information for pharmacies is forthcoming from the HSE and the HPSC.

Looking after the pharmacy team: The pharmacy team, of pharmacists, pharmaceutical assistants, technicians, pharmacist students and support staff is a vital asset in helping combat the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring continuing care to patients in our communities and our hospitals. It is essential that all pharmacy teams follow public health advice both to protect themselves and to protect patients and the wider public. As the virus spreads, looking after yourself, and each other, will become more of a challenge and, in common with all healthcare staff, will lead to an increased burden of work and responsibility on pharmacy teams. PSI respects the work done by pharmacy teams in all settings and the critical role you will play in maintaining medicine supply and providing patients with safe and reliable healthcare services during the coming weeks.

Exercising professional judgement: As registered professionals, the first responsibility of pharmacists is the care of their patients and people using the health system. While PSI will strive to ensure that information is available to pharmacists, there will, nonetheless over the coming weeks, be many circumstances where pharmacists will be called on to exercise their professional judgement. These are the situations where the public and the health system will be relying on pharmacists to use their expert knowledge and exercise their professional judgement to deliver safe care to patients, within the scope of their competence and in keeping with the Code of Conduct – Professional Principles, Standards and Ethics for Pharmacists. Some of these situations may be difficult, and pharmacists may have concerns that their actions may be questioned by, or be reported to, the regulator. In this context, we want to encourage all pharmacists to see the Code of Conduct as a supportive framework within which pharmacists feel able to exercise their professional judgement, including in emergency or exceptional situations, motivated only by the core concern to provide safe and appropriate patient care. Should an issue be raised subsequently about a pharmacist’s practice, this will be assessed in a fair way against the specific facts of the situation, the particular context in which the pharmacist was working and any protocols and guidelines that were in place at the time.

Working together: In the face of the COVID-19 threat, it is essential that we all work together and use our best endeavours to protect patients and the public. This includes protecting the sustainability of the medicine supply chain by not ordering quantities of medicines over and above normal requirements and by only dispensing quantities that are therapeutically indicated. It is also important to explain to patients how stockpiling and oversupply of medication can create unintended shortages and can put other patients’ health at risk. PSI, as the pharmacy regulator, is working to achieve the goal of public protection at a national level, and we appreciate that pharmacists and pharmacy team members are working at the frontline in hospitals and the community to achieve this goal at patient level. We thank you for your continued professionalism in this challenging time and assure you of our ongoing support over the coming weeks.

Additional information and ongoing updates on the topic of Covid-19 can be read on our website.

Joanne Kissane MPSI

Niall Byrne

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