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Opinion: Four pharmacies and a load of hassle


Opinion: Four pharmacies and a load of hassle

What image do we portray to the public and policy-makers? The pharmacy PR machine describes the many great things that the sector has to offer, but is this the experience that people walking into pharmacies actually have asks Liam Stapleton...

The vast majority of pharmacies deliver a fabulous service and hold themselves to very high standards. However, this experience will not necessarily be what sticks in the memory.

A poor experience or poor service can easily wipe out all the examples of good service. And this won’t be isolated to a particular pharmacy; it will be contagious and will taint the reputation of pharmacy in general.

Recently, I had to collect a prescription for my son. It had been written by the out-of-hours service on a Saturday afternoon. I went to the small market town where I live to visit one of the four pharmacies that would be open. The first pharmacy I passed, a late night pharmacy which is part of a small local chain, was in darkness. A sign on the window said “closed between 1-3pm. Sorry for the inconvenience” but didn’t give any further instructions. 

The second pharmacy, part of a national chain, was open. This was where the electronic prescription had been sent. When I asked for the prescription, the pharmacy assistant went into the dispensary, looked on the computer and then came back to tell me that the prescription couldn’t be dispensed because there was no pharmacist to check it. Apparently she was upstairs but “too upset” to check the prescription. Dispensed, and presumably checked, prescriptions were being handed out and P medicines sold, but that is for another discussion...

In the third pharmacy, another branch of a national chain, I approached the pharmacy counter but no one was there. I spotted a hand-written note on the counter that informed me that the pharmacist would be back in 10 minutes. 

I appreciate that he or she was probably nipping out for lunch but could not understand why there was no one manning the pharmacy counter in their absence. Not great customer service and surely a security issue. 

Final option

My final option was another national pharmacy chain branch. They had the stock and a pharmacist, and were able to dispense the prescription. Unfortunately I spent 10 minutes listening to the dispenser complaining to a colleague about another customer... but I received the dispensed prescription and the pharmacist provided excellent instructions when handing it out.

“Community pharmacies need to operate as a team across a locality”

I share this example, not to drag down a profession I am proud to belong to, but to hold up a mirror to illustrate the disservice that some of our colleagues do to our image. And these experiences have a disproportionate effect on our image and reputation as a whole.

Trust issues?

In a recent project for HEE, my colleagues and I received feedback that other professionals in primary care were reluctant to refer patients to community pharmacy because of a lack of trust. They didn’t trust that the patient would receive the service because the “right” pharmacist wasn’t in that pharmacy on that day. They didn’t want the patient returning frustrated, with less patience than when they had first contacted the practice. 

Dr Claire Fuller, in her report on integrating primary care (the Fuller Stocktake), talks about working in teams. Pharmacy needs to operate as a team across a locality – but my experience of trying to get a prescription dispensed on a Saturday showed how pharmacies still work in isolation. 

I appreciate that the holes in the slices of Swiss cheese may have lined up in this unusual event, but wouldn’t it have been better for patients and customers that some communication between pharmacies occurred, and clear directions about where I could find a service were made available at every pharmacy? 

We need to work together more effectively as a sector and set standards that give patients, other healthcare professionals and policymakers confidence that we are a safe pair of hands. If we are to become more integrated into NHS primary care, we need to break down internal barriers and work collaboratively across a number of pharmacies within a locality. 

Medical services need to be able to refer patients to pharmacy services, confident that the referral will be acted upon, no matter what. If practices get patients returning who haven’t received the service, where is the incentive to refer to pharmacies in the future?  

We need to work as a team to provide a complete pharmacy service locally, which requires us to trust each other. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always appear to be happening at the moment.

Liam Stapleton is director of Metaphor Development Limited and an associate clinical lecturer at the University of Lincoln.

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