Crossmaglen Pharmacy in County Armagh is making a name for itself in the local area with a whole host of external events and pharmacy services aimed at helping the community keep in fine fettle

Crossmaglen is a close-knit rural town in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, right on the Irish border and at its heart is Crossmaglen Pharmacy. Serving both the town and outlying villages, the health centre-based, Numark member pharmacy is a busy hub of activity, with three doctors’ practices and a range of other health services on their doorstep.

A remarkable team

Led by Ciara Garvey, the pharmacy’s superintendent pharmacist, the team comprises pharmacist Aileen Murphy, pharmacy technicians Sharon McMahon and Edel Murphy, pharmacy assistant Sinead McLoughlin and trainee Edel McKeown. “Nobody is too good for any job and we all get on really well and support each other,” Ciara says.

It’s clear that the whole team love pharmacy life and many of them have worked at the pharmacy for years. The longest-serving member is Sharon who’s got an impressive 24 years under her belt. “It’s the people that I work with that make it,” Sharon says. “We’re a real team and we see ourselves as a family. We all get on so well and I really love going to work – we always say we go in happy and leave happy which is brilliant.”

As well as the long-serving team members, Crossmaglen Pharmacy is also embracing fresh talent. Edel McKeown started at the pharmacy just a couple of months ago and is currently working through her initial training with support from her colleagues.

With the team getting on so well, the pharmacy has a friendly atmosphere and this, coupled with the team’s familiar faces, helps keep customers coming back says Sharon. She comments: “With customers, we find they’re more comfortable as they know us and can relate to us a bit more. They’re not scared to come in and ask questions.”

Sinead agrees, saying that compared to when she started at the pharmacy 15 years ago, she’d estimate that business has quadrupled and she thinks this is “because we offer so much now and people come in and know the faces which really helps.”

Out in the community

One of Ciara’s main priorities is creating links with the local community and offering support outside the pharmacy. This is achieved, in part, through the pharmacy’s health check programme, which was initially set up by the local council. 

“There was an increase in cancer and cardiovascular disease in the local area and the idea was to try and tackle it by doing health checks,” explains Ciara. “We started out at events at local football clubs and from that the council asked us if we’d expand and take it out into the wider community at different events.”

The biggest event recently was Dromintee Vintage Day, which was a roaring success. “In the past at these events we were quite hidden but we asked to be out front and this really helped. People stopped to chat to ask about health checks and with males over 40 – our target group – uptake was fantastic and that’s especially good as lots of them don’t get to the pharmacy that often,” Ciara says.

“It’s always a really enjoyable day and more people approach us because we’re out in the community and they maybe didn’t realise the pharmacy was there or what we can offer them,” Sharon explains. “They’ve had a really positive impact and make people comfortable to come in [to the pharmacy] and ask for more advice or another cholesterol check.”

Crossmaglen Pharmacy raised £2,250 for mental
health work at the local high school

These events come around roughly twice a month and the whole team is trained in carrying out health checks so whoever is free can step up. “It’s a lot of evenings and weekends so we make sure to spread out the responsibilities and the girls really enjoy being involved,” Ciara adds.

The pharmacy’s community outreach doesn’t end there. The team also organise fundraisers to improve awareness of health issues, raise money for local causes and support their community. Sharon says: “We’ve done a few fundraisers which were brilliant. The last one was a Dawn Walk and the turnout from the community was fabulous.”

The 5km walk was organised alongside St Josephs – the local high school – on Easter Saturday this year to raise money to support the mental health and wellbeing services at the school. The pharmacy team took the opportunity to speak to students about mental health first aid, as well as wider issues that affect teenagers, such as smoking, diet and hygiene, and raised an impressive £2,250. 

Ciara’s team can’t speak highly enough of her and her ideas for events, fundraisers and campaigns. Sinead refers to Ciara as “a wee Duracell bunny” and Sharon adds: “Ciara is brilliant and has always got an idea on the go and we’re planning to do lots more fundraisers in the future.”

Accessibility is key

The Crossmaglen Pharmacy team pride themselves on their accessibility, and the health check programme and pharmacy services only enhance this. 

“They’re really good as a way to help working people as all services at the health centre are run from 9am to 5:30pm or 6pm at the latest and so people who work often can’t access them. But if we can go out into the community at different times during the week then we can really fulfil that local need,” explains Ciara.

The pharmacy’s in-store offering includes minor ailments, weight management and smoking cessation services and blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol testing. “We’re accessible, much more than a doctor. People can come to us knowing that we’ll see them today and we won’t turn them away, whereas you might not get a GP appointment for two days or longer,” says Sinead. “With our services we’re inundated – especially with men. It’s always a bit of fun and they do competitions to see who’s best and got the lowest cholesterol.”

The close proximity of other services in the health centre also plays to the pharmacy’s advantage and allows them to offer added value to customers. “There are two different doctors’ practices in the health centre and lots of services. So we have midwives, district nurses, podiatry – lots of brilliant services,” says Ciara. “We signpost patients to these services and are able to make contact with the healthcare professionals and get advice from them to pass on to our customers as well.”

Getting the message out there

As well as their events and conventional methods of getting their messages out, such as getting involved in health awareness days, the Crossmaglen team love coming up with other ways to engage with their community and target people who may not be aware of what the pharmacy can offer.

“When the schools started again [after the summer break], head lice were a big issue and lots of people don’t know that our minor ailments service covers that,” Sinead explains. “We did a competition through the local schools for products and raised awareness. It was really good because if you’ve got a few kids at home, especially girls with long hair, it can get quite expensive. So we did the competition through the school and it went really well.”

Ciara also writes a successful weekly column in the local newspaper. “The topics can be on anything from our pharmacy services and events, highlighting different support groups or advice on seasonal health matters,” Ciara explains. “The articles cover topics including, cold and flu, stopping smoking and sun safety.” 

Social media is an increasingly valuable resource for the pharmacy. They post on Facebook and Instagram regularly and get a lot of engagement from customers. “We did a video last year about how to use a monitored dose inhaler and that was massively liked and shared and we still get engagement on that even a year later,” says Ciara. “If we’re counselling a patient we can direct them to our Facebook page to find out more or refresh their understanding when they get home – the videos are an added consultation aid really. And we’re so busy in the pharmacy that it’s useful to signpost them to it. If they don’t come back then we know it’s worked!”

Ciara is keen to do more on social media, especially with videos, as the response they get is so positive, although she says her team is less enthusiastic about the limelight. Sinead explains: “We’re all a little bit camera shy so we tend to stay behind the camera but we’ll give our input if we think there is something we should cover. It’s a real team effort.”

Challenges ahead

With the pharmacy being two miles from the Irish border, the impending impact of Brexit is a cause for concern for Ciara and her team. “Brexit will have a massive impact on us as we’re so close to the border and one of our girls actually lives over the border so we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds,” says Ciara. But for now, their main focus is on the immediate future and how they can further improve their pharmacy’s offering and best support their community.

Ciara is mindful that people’s attitude to health is changing. Understanding about health conditions and knowing how to look after themselves and keep themselves healthy is becoming more of a priority and so keeping her staff ahead of the game is crucial to providing their customers with what they want. It’s a new challenge but one she’s tackling head on with a focus on staff training.

“As a team we do Numark training once a month on different topics. Cold and flu is a big one at the minute and we always use it as a refresher for us all, as well as going over it for new staff,” Ciara explains. “It’s good to keep up to date on products to recommend and how they can be used, and we concentrate on things like first aid and health and safety too. It’s so important to have that knowledge because once people have confidence in staff they’ll come back and ask more questions and they’ll trust you, especially if it’s evidence-based information they’re getting.”

Sinead explains that the team do all the training individually to understand the basics and then discuss it as a group to develop the ideas and work through any questions to ensure the whole team is happy and up to date.

In addition, Ciara says that “with everything changing in the sector and with our ever-changing roles, being able to delegate and boost training to facilitate that is really important.” And it’s this attitude, along with their fantastic offering of services, that will surely stand the pharmacy in good stead for the future.

People can come to us knowing that we’ll see them today and we won’t turn them away

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