By running health awareness campaigns off the back of the training modules she undertakes, Louise White can support her community’s health to the best of her ability

Accuracy checking technician Louise White has worked at Colyton Pharmacy in Devon, a Numark member, for 18 years and has helped to promote the pharmacy as a go-to destination for health advice.

Louise, second left, and her team have built up their consultation skills so they can
sensitively advise customers whatever the concern

Situated a five minute walk from the nearest GP surgery, the pharmacy team makes the most of its prime location by getting involved in health campaigns and continually looking for ways to support the health of the community.

Time for training 

‘You can never do too much training’ is a mantra that Louise fully embraces. She says: “Ideas and things change so quickly in pharmacy, both at a local and national level so it’s important that we stay up to date and, using that phrase, sing from the same hymn sheet.”

As well as giving the team the knowledge to confidently help customers with health concerns and queries, Louise says that the training they undertake reinforces the crucial patient-centred care ethos. “One thing I’m very aware of is patient-centred care,” she says. “The patient can get lost in everything but the training we do really improves our listening skills and highlights that everything they say is important. Whether they have a learning disability, hearing problem or physical disability, it’s about making sure everything is understood on both sides so you can give them the right information to help with whatever concern they have.” 

Louise uses the Numark+ Training platform regularly and is impressed that there’s such a wide range of topics to cover all aspects of pharmacy, from condition-led clinical modules to complex issues like GDPR and safeguarding. She says: “It is also in a nice and friendly format so it is easy to read and understand, which is perfect for when I am advising patients on a subject that I have learnt about as I feel I can explain it with more confidence.”

All about alcohol

The training module that Louise has found most useful was on alcohol misuse. Not only did this give her the knowledge and confidence to help support people with alcohol problems, but she was also able to link her newfound knowledge to the ‘Drink Wise, Age Well’ alcohol awareness campaign the pharmacy ran as part of its healthy living pharmacy activities. 

With alcohol consumption being a potentially delicate subject, Louise and her team put out leaflets so that customers could take them away to read in their own time and were on hand to chat and offer support and advice to anyone who needed it.

The feedback from the campaign was generally positive in terms of the conversations it initiated. “We had lots of comments from customers and for some people it was quite a shock really,” Louise explains. “It gave them a wake up call and lots of people were really thinking about their habits – so maybe starting with lunchtime drinking, having a glass of wine with dinner and then moving on to beer in the evening – it soon adds up.”

Louise sees this campaign as a small step on a longer journey and she’s looking ahead to Dry January as a way to up the ante. She says: “It’s not just about the month-long campaign, it’s about changing people’s mind set and setting long-term goals, but Dry January is a good starting point.”

Drink Wise, Age Well

Funded by the National Lottery, ‘Drink Wise, Age Well’ is based in five areas across the UK – Devon, Glasgow, Sheffield, Cwm Taf in Wales and Western Trust area in Northern Ireland. 

The programme aims to help people aged over 50 make healthier choices about their alcohol use as they age. It highlights the complex health and wellbeing risks associated with heavy drinking at this stage in life by raising awareness, changing attitudes and combating stigma. And there’s plenty of scope for pharmacy teams to get involved.

According to Drink Wise, Age Well, there is a significant lack of awareness in the over-50s population about recommended alcohol limits, with three-quarters unable to correctly identify what the limits are. And a recent study conducted for the organisation shows that of those people aged 50 plus who said they were drinking more now than in the past, retirement (40 per cent), bereavement (26 per cent) and loss of sense of purpose (20 per cent) were the main reasons given. 

Commenting on the findings, Julie Breslin, head of Drink Wise, Age Well, said: “These are things we are all likely to go through, so our approach is not to preach but to provide authoritative information and insights about alcohol harm and let people make up their own minds.”

A multi-disciplinary approach

Louise was also involved in a cancer awareness evening in association with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Nurses, along with a local GP who had connections with the local hospital in Exeter. “It was a link up of the whole process from initial consultations and popping in to see us,” says Louise. “The brilliant thing about that evening were the two ladies who ran it. They have sent emails to check how we’re doing and we can contact them with any questions so it’s an on going training opportunity. It’s the first time I’ve felt there’s a training session that really focuses on us.”

For Louise, raising awareness of the importance of screening and supporting patients with cancer is an important part of her role. “I think people now are getting to be aware of national campaigns for breast screening and bowel screening, but take up in some areas is zero and that’s really quite shocking,” she says. “Cancer isn’t the Big C. Yes it’s scary, but no more scary than diabetes or heart disease. It’s just about understanding the condition and letting [patients] know that the support is there whatever the outcome.”

Part of this, Louise says, is using plain English that patients will understand and avoiding terminology that may confuse people or not mean anything to them. “A lot of the time they won’t ask if they don’t understand. We try to make it clear that there’s no shame in asking,” says Louise.

Next on the agenda

As with most pharmacies around the country, Colyton Pharmacy’s attention has now turned to flu vaccinations. “We’ve got our flu banner up and leaflets and reminders going out with all prescriptions,” says Louise. “We’ve also got information at the counter and in the window too – we’re certainly covering all bases. That’s really our focus for the rest of the year.”

Louise is very conscious about trying not to overwhelm people with too many awareness campaigns and so for 2019 she’s planning on picking out a few key topics, starting with Dry January, to do really well. “I want to focus on three or four and get some really good ideas behind us and give ourselves time to plan so we’re not saying ‘oh, this week is diabetes awareness’ and then by the time we’ve got sorted it’s over,” Louise explains. “We’ll organise window displays and training for the whole pharmacy team so we can provide patients with all the information they need.”

Ideas and things change so quickly in pharmacy, both at a local and national level so it’s important that we stay up to date

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