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A services superstar

Over her 15 years in pharmacy, Ashleigh Pearce has been keen to take on as many new skills as she can, including championing NHS pilot services.

When asked, what do you like about working in community pharmacy, accuracy checking technician and pharmacy manager, Ashleigh Pearce, said: “I love the variety! Every day is different, and I love meeting new customers and making a difference.”

Ashleigh started working at Newington Pharmacy in Hull almost 15 years ago and has worked her way up, completing her medicines counter assistant training before the year was out. “Then that Christmas was exceptionally busy, and we had staff sickness, so I got involved in the dispensary – I was put on the dispensing course and by 2009 I had qualified,” she explains. In 2013 she became a pharmacy technician and completed her accuracy checking technician training just five years ago. 

Though she has risen quickly through the ranks, pharmacy wasn’t always the plan. “To be honest, I never knew anything about pharmacy. It’s not even anything I’d ever considered. It was my auntie who worked here at the time, she was a dispenser, and she said, ‘where I’m working is looking for staff’. I came to meet her on the Friday, started on the Monday and it just sort of went from there!”

Taking a lead

Now Ashleigh gets involved with all the pharmacy has to offer and thinks the team plays a big role in the community. Due to many people having difficulty booking in with a GP, and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when GPs weren’t doing face-to-face appointments, the community turned to the open doors of the pharmacy and now look to it as their first port of call. “I think that made them realise they should come to the pharmacy first and if the pharmacy can’t help then they should go to the doctor’s surgery, not the other way around,” she explains. 

Last year, Ashleigh also took on the role of PCN pharmacy lead in her area, enabling her to build great relationships with other surrounding pharmacies as well as the main doctor’s surgery over the road. “The other clinical lead, which tends to be a doctor, and I keep in touch. We liaise as to how we can help each other. I explain how the new services work, they explain to me any problems and then I can pass that information back to all the other pharmacies and we can try and have as seamless an experience as possible.” 

Before she accepted the role, Ashleigh spoke to people in the area including members of the LPC about what it would entail. “They told me it can be quite frustrating as some doctors aren’t as willing to work with the pharmacies as others and some pharmacies don’t always get back in touch with you when you’re trying to liaise with them,” she explains. “But all you can do is try your best and so far, I think I’ve got a really good group and I’ve been quite lucky.”

Targeting contraception

In September 2021, the NHS launched the Community Pharmacy Contraception Service Pilot, with the aim of creating more capacity in primary care and sexual health clinics by allowing oral contraception access to be available through a community pharmacy. 

Split into two tiers, the pilot is the first step in testing whether community pharmacies have the potential for providing more access to ongoing oral contraception (Tier 1) and initiating access to contraception (Tier 2).  

Pharmacies were able to register to take part in the scheme and as of October 2022, 66 community pharmacy teams had delivered nearly 1,500 consultations within Tier 1. Tier 2 of the pilot will run until September 2023.  

Ashleigh is part of a team that has delivered the highest number of consultations to patients and is particularly engaged with the service. “When we registered, we got all the information through and it said we might get referrals from the surgeries and we found we just weren’t getting anything through,” she explains. 

“I thought, what can we do to get this scheme up and running? So, I began to search our system, seeing what patients got the contraceptive pills from us, when they got it, when they might be due again. We made a list, contacted those patients, let them know about the service and invited them for an appointment with the pharmacist who met with them and, if appropriate provided, contraception. 

“Once they’d come to see us once and they knew how the service worked, three months later we didn’t have to chase, they came back to us because they knew it was an option.”  

Community convenience

For Ashleigh, the benefits of the scheme are obvious, and the more pharmacies that can get involved, the better. “I think the only downside of the scheme is that not all pharmacies are on board,” she says. “Some patients may try and go to one pharmacy, who don’t offer the service so then they think nowhere offers it, which obviously isn’t the case. 

“It’s quite a lot of training so some pharmacies haven’t done it, or some stores run off locums so they can offer it one day and then the next they can’t. We have found that when patients know that we do it, they’re quite keen to come to us, especially as we’re a 100-hour pharmacy as they can come on a night, on a weekend, in the morning… and it’s a lot more convenient than having to go to the doctors!”

Now that the contraception pilot has proved successful for the pharmacy, Ashleigh hopes to get involved in more pilot schemes as they become available. “There’s another service coming out at the moment that we’re just looking into, the COPD review service,” she says. 

“It will involve things like checking patient’s inhaler techniques. I did my training on it recently and was really surprised by how many people don’t use their inhalers correctly and how much of a difference it can make if they do so. I think that’s going to be very interesting and it would be nice to be able to provide it for patients.” 

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