With a total of 28 years’ experience in community pharmacy, Heather James has always enjoyed the variety of work, teamwork and the opportunity to improve people’s health and wellbeing that pharmacy involves. However, when the independent pharmacy where she worked was taken over by Day Lewis Pharmacy eight years ago, she was offered the chance to extend her duties by training firstly as a pharmacy technician and later as an accuracy checking technician (ACT) when the role was still relatively new. Last October, the Torquay Road branch of Day Lewis Pharmacy joined the healthy living pharmacy (HLP) initiative, and Heather became a health champion, enabling her to make an even bigger impact on the health of her community.
“I was a bit concerned when the pharmacy was taken over, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened,” insists Heather. “It was the first time I’d done any proper training since leaving school in 1975 and it just goes to show that it is never too late to gain new qualifications.”
Heather has embraced every opportunity to further her learning
“Becoming a healthy living pharmacy has helped us build on what we do anyway, and means that we can offer more opportunistic advice and brief interventions,” explains Heather. “The pharmacy is in an ideal location on the main road between Paignton and Torquay and we are a big part of the local community. People know and trust us, so something that we say could spur them on to make healthy changes.” Motivating people to change their behaviour is a key part of the health champion role, and Heather has picked up some great techniques for supporting her customers to make healthy changes.
For example, she says: “One thing I often say to people who are not sure about whether or not to quit smoking is: ‘What would be the worst thing that could happen if you quit?’ and they usually say something like: ‘I could put on weight’. So, then I ask them: ‘And what would be the worst thing that could happen if you don’t?’ and that really makes them stop and think!”
Her local knowledge and familiar face in the community also come in handy when providing tips on healthy living, such as getting more active: “As I know a lot of my customers well, I can give them tips on increasing their activity levels that I know they can follow, like trying to walk a bit each day and getting out in the fresh air, but starting up gradually. It helps that I am active myself and a keen walker and cyclist”.
Being located in a busy holiday destination means that the pharmacy receives frequent visits from young families and holidaymakers, often looking for products and self-care advice to deal with common holiday mishaps like sunburn. This, says Heather, “provides a good opportunity to offer advice on covering up and using a stronger factor sunscreen next time”. Heather also helps to coordinate regular health awareness campaigns, and the pharmacy held a big promotion on skin cancer and sun safety last year.
As the pharmacy is located in a popular retirement area, many of its customers and patients are elderly. However, a nearby Day Lewis Pharmacy, which is located next door to a GP surgery, deals with the majority of walk-in prescriptions in the area, leaving Heather and her colleagues free to look after the care home business and also support patients using an innovative new dementia advice drop-in service. The Torquay Road branch of Day Lewis supplies medicines to 18 care homes in the area, which keeps Heather and the rest of the dispensary team busy doing medicines checks and dispensing medicines into Dosette boxes.
Pharmacist Karen Gosden performs the clinical assessment for each prescription, while a dispensing assistant dispenses the medicines and Heather carries out the final accuracy check. There’s also another ACT on the team, which means that they have developed “a great system” of checking each other’s work, says Heather. Karen also provides medicines training on the premises for all of the care home staff. She says that having two competent ACTs on the team makes “a huge difference” because it allows her to deliver training while still being on hand to offer support in the dispensary if needed.
Thanks to the pharmacy’s prominent position in the community and healthy living pharmacy status, the team recently developed a relationship with a local not-for-profit organisation called Purple Angel, which provides support for people with dementia and their families and carers, as well as fundraising for dementia charities. Purple Angel volunteers have begun holding weekly drop in support sessions for people with dementia and their carers at an ‘advice station’ in a large, open corner of the pharmacy. Second pharmacist Rachel Fergie supports the service by providing relevant medicines advice, while Heather is on hand to signpost people to the sessions.
It just goes to show that it is never too late to gain new qualifications
“We had a meeting with Purple Angel and they thought that the pharmacy would be an ideal place to host support sessions and we really wanted to get behind them,” she says. “We have the space for people to sit down and chat and it is amazing the difference that 10 minutes can make. There are lots of elderly people living nearby, although dementia doesn’t just affect older people. The organisation was set up by Norman McNamara, who was diagnosed with lewy body dementia at the age of just 52.”
The service is growing in popularity by word-of-mouth, and Day Lewis Pharmacy is looking at extending it to other branches, while the team is also taking the service forward by training to become Dementia Friends, as part of an ongoing initiative from the Alzheimer’s Society.