Kieran's totalhealth pharmacy spoke with our reporter on the challenges of dealing with Covid-19 restrictions
Businesses closed as a result of the pandemic are availing of rates waivers and other supports, but what about essential services which remained open? Here we look at the impact of the lockdown on pharmacies
A recent survey by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) found that the costs to pharmacies of installing physical barriers and purchasing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic has ranged from €2,700 to €10,000. In addition, pharmacies have seen their retail sales fall by an average of 36% since the start of the crisis.
As an essential service, pharmacies have had to remain open during the pandemic. Yet they have also had to watch as footfall into their businesses dropped significantly as a result of restrictions.
Much of the focus to date has been on providing supports and interventions for those businesses who have had to close their doors during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the IPU is now calling on the Government to do more to support businesses which remained open, such as pharmacies.
Brendan Kieran of Kieran's totalhealth pharmacies in Carrick-on-Shannon and Mohill, said that there is a perception that, just because a business is open, it won't be struggling.
As well as seeing business drop by a third in the last few months, he noted that pharmacies have also had to bear the cost of meeting HSE guidelines for social distancing and safety. This has involved a significant outlay on protective screens, staff PPE and other measures.
But despite all this, pharmacies cannot avail of any rates waivers or other incentives because of the fact they had to keep their doors open.
“I feel we'll be the very last on the pecking order to get help because people look and say, 'but you were open',” admits Brendan.
“What they don't see is what it is costing us to be open as an essential service”.
Brendan points out that not only is footfall down because of the lockdown, but people are not able to browse and buy as they had previously.
“Now people are coming in to buy just one thing and that's all they buy. Before this people came in to buy one thing and they could browse and buy a few more items as well. With social distancing guidelines that is no longer possible,” he points out.
Brendan said that he feels that more needs to be done to help businesses which have remained open during the lockdown.
“Businesses such as ourselves have had to stay open and we've had to very, very quickly look at how we could readjust and keep operating within the guidelines,” he points out.
Although any business now looking at reopening will have to make a similar investment in screens, setting out waiting areas and social distancing, this is a cost which they have not had to bear in a short space of time like businesses such as pharmacies.
He said there is a clear need for more supports for pharmacies and similar essential services which remained open since March, to serve the community.
“There should definitely be something done whether that be a rates freeze or a waiver,” said Brendan.
“Just because we were open doesn't mean that we haven't also been placed under severe financial pressure.
“It isn't fair to expect us to provide this service and to pay for everyone else when businesses who closed are being helped. We are all trying to keep our businesses going and to keep our staff on and there should be some incentive to help essential services too.”
RJS Pharmacy's Ryan Jones also spoke with the Observer about the impact of the lockdown on business and the industry.
Ryan Jones, RJS Pharmacy in Drumshanbo acknowledged that the past few months have been very challenging for pharmacies.
“We are remaining open to provide a service to our local community as an essential service but people are now only picking up essential items therefore reducing sales massively,” he pointed out.
“As a result business has fallen but our costs have increased as we’ve had to take measures to meet the required guidelines such as protective screening, marking out of zones along with providing a delivery service. Despite the fall in sales we’ve kept all our staff on to provide these services to the local community.”
Ryan said that the support of local people had been crucial over the last few months.
“Thankfully the people of Drumshanbo and neighbouring areas have been very supportive and are supporting the local businesses as best they can as they do realise it’s a tough time for us,” he acknowledged.
“I would hope that we will continue to receive support to ensure we can stay open and continue to provide an essential service.”
Like other pharmacists, Ryan said that he believes more supports are needed to help essential services which have remained open over the pandemic.
“I do feel more support is needed and a rates freeze would be one way of helping businesses such as ourselves during this difficult time to ensure essential services can continue to provide and would help in a small way to cover some of the cost Covid-19 has placed on us,” he said.