FIRST Minister Arlene Foster MLA paid tribute to community pharmacy teams during her recent visit to Hughes Pharmacy in Enniskillen.

Mrs. Foster met with pharmacist Paul Hughes to hear how his pharmacy team dealt with the pressures during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, where she thanked them, and their peers, for their ongoing commitment and support to patients and wider society.

Mr. Hughes outlined the wide range of measures that community pharmacies have introduced, including social distancing, protective screens and the development of new services that will bolster local community-based healthcare, such as new delivery services that means the most vulnerable will still receive medicines when shielding.

The First Minister also heard of the advancement of new services in local community pharmacies such as the flu vaccination service, which will be provided to all health and social care workers in Northern Ireland in more than 350 community pharmacies this winter.

Speaking at Hughes Pharmacy, Mrs. Foster said: "It was eye-opening to hear from Paul Hughes and his pharmacy team about the experiences they faced during the first wave of this pandemic.

“Covid has placed an immense burden on all of our frontline staff and it is humbling to see how people like Paul and his team have stepped up and put the needs of their patients first.

"These pressures have never been experienced before by our health service, but when it mattered most, they went above and beyond to do their jobs and look after their patients.

Mr. Hughes said: “We talked about the pressures brought about by Covid-19, and how we plan to bolster our services in the months ahead, which will no doubt be very challenging.

“The pressure faced by pharmacy teams during the first wave of the pandemic was immense, such as working longer hours, ensuring correct medicines were sourced and delivered to patients, and risking their own health on the frontline every day.

“We also spoke to the First Minister about our Winter service preparations, such as the flu vaccine, and the Minor Ailments Service, which are available in local pharmacies across Northern Ireland.

"These services will prove to be crucial in keeping people away from hospitals and ease the burden on other healthcare settings, such as emergency departments and GPs."