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The impact of COVID-19 and the role of pharmacists in hospitals

World Pharmacists Day 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important hospital pharmacy is and the important role that pharmacists and hospital pharmacy teams play as part of the larger multidisciplinary healthcare team. In particular, the often difficult operational, logistical and clinical situations they have had to navigate during the pandemic, have drawn on their expertise and ability to innovate to deliver quality pharmaceutical care.

Pharmacists play a critical role in the medication and surgical consumable supply chain for our hospitals, in addition to dispensing of medication and providing information to assist in ensuring medication safety and optimising pharmaceutical care for our patients. In recent years the focus on clinical pharmacy has increased significantly, with pharmacist participation in care at the bedside. This has created a platform for pharmacists to directly provide their knowledge and expertise on medication and participate in decision making as part of the multidisciplinary healthcare teams caring for patients.

However, a 2020 study highlighted three main themes that hospital pharmacists experienced during the pandemic: Reassignment and other changes in clinical pharmacist roles, adapting clinical pharmacy services to COVID-19, and the need for clinical pharmacists in the ward. 1

“These themes were also evident within Life Healthcare’s hospital pharmacies across South Africa. Although challenging and at times stressful, our pharmacists and clinical pharmacists continued to support the care of patients together with the multidisciplinary healthcare teams.

“Clinical pharmacy services were indeed fully or partially withdrawn from the wards to reduce the risk of infection to support sustainable pharmacy service provision and to conserve the usage of full personal protective equipment (PPE). However, we adjusted our ways of working and clinical pharmacists continued to support patient care in hospitals through the use of technology and virtual ward rounds.

“It was also critical to adjust our pharmacy workflow practices to keep pharmacists safe while maintaining professional standards, and optimising management of our significantly higher inventory asset adjusted in line with COVID-19 treatment demands and the changed case mix,” said Shirley Leadbeater, National Pharmacy Practice Manager at Life Healthcare.

Leadbeater added that it was important for our pharmacies to work closely with each other and with the national procurement team at the time of national shortages of PPE to ensure adequate stock to protect our healthcare workers. During the pandemic national waves our pharmacists were instrumental in ensuring that hospitals had the critical medication, surgical products particularly for delivery of oxygen treatment, and PPE necessary, to enable the multidisciplinary healthcare teams to treat COVID-19 patients effectively and safely”.

As the pandemic continued, one of the important clinical functions of pharmacists was to ensure that the COVID-19 pharmacotherapy (drug treatment) guidelines followed in Life Healthcare hospitals were aligned to best practice and evidence-based recommendations from national and international recognised academic and health authorities. This role continues to be vital, particularly as novel therapies become available to treat severe COVID-19 infections.  As outlined by the World Health Organization, patient safety is fundamental to delivering quality essential health services that are effective, safe and people-centred.

In February this year Life Healthcare hospital pharmacists, trained in good clinical practice (GCP) methodology, stepped up at four internal and six external vaccination sites to participate in the Sisonke vaccination programme that allowed the government to make the J&J COVID-19 vaccine immediately available to healthcare workers using a research platform. Currently pharmacists are playing a critical role in the provision of information for, the procurement and cold chain process, and the proactive stock expiry management of the commercial COVID-19 vaccines at our 18 primary sites supporting the national vaccination rollout.   

The days of pharmacy of old, as a purely transaction-based, commoditised dispensing model are long gone, replaced by a relationship-based, patient-centric, and collaborative model. The modern-day approach sees patients benefiting more from their pharmacists’ extensive medication knowledge and expertise in the multidisciplinary healthcare team. The role of hospital pharmacist will continue to remain fluid and extremely important throughout this pandemic, and the experience and key learnings during these unprecedented times will no doubt have a lasting positive effect in the practice of hospital and clinical pharmacy. The objective always being to get patients the best and most cost-effective pharmaceutical care to optimise clinical outcomes.

Life Healthcare honours and acknowledges all its pharmacists this World Pharmacists Day and thanks them for their crucial role in working closely with all healthcare professionals and hospital management teams to ensure patients continue to receive quality care and in making life better.


1 'To be or not to be in the ward': The Impact of Covid-19 on the Role of Hospital-Based Clinical Pharmacists - A Qualitative Study - PubMed (


About hospital and clinical pharmacists

A pharmacist in South Africa has completed a four-year degree at University, followed by an internship of one year and finally a year’s community service.   

Hospital pharmacists work closely with other healthcare professionals to procure and supply them with quality cost-effective pharmaceutical and surgical products for use in wards and theatres. To optimise the care patients receive in hospitals, pharmacists work hard to ensure the uninterrupted supply of products. Hospital pharmacist professional duties include ensuring that the medications dispensed to patients are the correct ones, and confirming that they’re being given in the correct doses at the proper times. It is also their responsibility to check that medicines prescribed are compatible with each other, with existing medications, and with patient co-morbidities, and make medication recommendations accordingly.

The most common treatment intervention used in healthcare around the world is medication. It contributes to significant improvements in the health and well-being of patients, when used safely and appropriately. Pharmacists play a supporting role in guiding and evaluating patient medication treatment to provide the best quality care for patients. The value of their in-depth knowledge on pharmacology and pharmacotherapy has proven essential in the multidisciplinary hospital environment.

Clinical pharmacy is a specialised function performed by pharmacists within a hospital environment. Clinical pharmacists typically have an additional Masters qualification in clinical pharmacy. We also have hospital pharmacists that are particularly interested in clinical pharmacy practice, and have studied further and completed certificate courses following their B Pharm degree. Our clinical pharmacy team evaluates patient medication treatment to help ensure that each patient receives the most appropriate evidence-based treatment to achieve the best possible clinical outcomes. They spend time interacting with patients and the multidisciplinary professional healthcare team (made up of specialists, allied health professionals and nurses) at ICU and ward level, perform medication assessments, and often participate in care rounds.