January is almost over, and with it the first month of the second year of the coronavirus pandemic. And I have a problem and a conundrum to solve.
Back when all this unfolded last Spring, and the first lockdown happened, I suspended any face-to-face patient consultations and took on patients I could treat without examining them (which to be fair is most of them). And critically, the dispensary did not stop working. Anyone who needed their medicine would get it, delivered as before. As the pragmatics of the lockdown deepened, I did start to post out more medicines which brought another problem – but that is for another post.
Now we are weary of coronavirus, and the pandemic-instigated lockdowns seem like a ‘new normal’ habit to stick to. This is how life has become for us in these troubled days. But as time has gone on, the pressures on the dispensary have grown exponentially. Getting stock and getting medicines out to patients in a timely manner has been a real challenge. I wanted to write down my issues and challenges with the idea of sending it to patients – but, as a number of them have told me, they are fed up of excuses as there is a ‘new excuse every month’. So I doubt I’ll send this to patients. It is however a useful piece of therapy to work through my current issues.
Firstly, suppliers. Since the start of the pandemic, every herbal supplier I deal with is always out of something. I normally deal with one or two key suppliers. This last year I’ve had to deal with five. And for an average bi-monthly order, I’ve had to go to at least three separate companies to get what I normally would from one. And due to the pressures of working under coronavirus those orders may not be fulfilled anything like the usual next-day service. I’m lucky in that 70% of my herbs are grown or foraged by me – so the external pressure is smaller than for some of my colleagues. But there is still a pinch point especially when I have to decide if a patient gets *something* today or what they need next week. Then there have been times that the ridiculous has happened and I am left waiting for an order of empty medicine bottles. So even if I have all the ingredients of someone’s mix, I might not have anything to put it in. More than once I have used ex-stock bottles with the label adhesive that is a nightmare to clean off covered with white paper. Right now I am waiting for an order of bottles that is stuck in transit and has been on order for ten days.
Then there has been the logistics of getting out to deliver medicines. I have turned more and more to either the post office or couriers to send medicines to patients rather than delivering myself. Except that a few patients (always the same ones too) have very poor reliability in receiving these packages. One poor lady has had two go amiss in the space of 5 months. One time a parcel was returned to me by a courier, looking like it had been through a mangle and leaking tincture – the bottle inside crushed.
To cap it all off this last ten days, the local Royal Mail sorting office has been closed. I’ve been waiting for small packages of tablets for two of my patients which come in padded envelopes and still aren’t here. And to top it all off, an order of bottles has gone missing – this was after a wait for them to come back into stock in the first place, which didn’t happen and was resolved by me accepting double the number of half-sized bottles as a substitute.
I’m generally just worn out by it all. Trying to keep a business afloat with takings substantially down from face to face consultations, struggling to keep the dispensary stocked, and letting people down has left me stressed, worn out and just generally… knackered. Knackered by being hamstrung from a hugely exaggerated burden of getting goods in, and medicines out
So I’m asking myself the question “why didn’t I just close for the foreseeable” when the first lockdown happened? Because I have a duty of care to my patients. Many of whom are seeing me for the treatment of life-altering conditions (or worse). But that still doesn’t make things easy when they complain to me about not getting their medicines. The buck stops with me. Unfortunately though, the causes don’t stop with me, they are passed on to me. But I am left shouldering the weight of trying to keep a business/practice/dispensary running and trying to keep patients supplied with medicines while all I really want to do is run away and cry.
Time to write some more emails and texts and explain why people haven’t got their medicine yet and why I haven’t answered! (Answers: Don’t have what I need, been away from the phone. Crying.)