Ashley showing off her Pharmacy Business award.

Ashley Matthews is the epitome of the saying, ‘if the mountain will not come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain.’ She didn’t get a chance to go to the university, but she has managed to reach the pinnacle of her profession by sheer determination and a can-do attitude. An extremely experienced accuracy checking technician (ACT), Ashley has delivered on a role that was once strictly reserved for the services lead for O’Briens, the pharmacist.

“I have done every single training that came my way, never turned an opportunity down. That’s because I always wanted to better myself and I am always motivated to succeed. In 1999, I did a National Pharmacy Association NVQ Level 3 course in pharmacy services. About 10 years later I completed the ACT course. Since winning the Pharmacy Business award, I have done an NHS’ Mary Seacole Leadership Programme through the CPPE website. Later this year, I plan to complete a Level 4 Clinical Pharmacy Services diploma from Bradford College.”

Patient focus

After winning her Pharmacy Business Award last year, she has been leading the way for more innovative service developments in all the branches of O’Briens in Fleetwood, a coastal town in the north of England which is a deprived area with a large segment of the population on state benefits.

She is incredibly passionate about her work and equally enjoys her time outside the pharmacies. She attends community health and wellbeing events, partnership initiatives, local charity events like Men’s Shed, etc. “to take our services out to the local community, targeting people that normally don’t attend pharmacies, screen them and provide them with instant health checks.”

Ashley and her team use various local events, marketing campaigns and campaigns on social media platforms such as Facebook to raise awareness around better patient health outcomes.

Reaching out to people can be challenging but Ashley says it’s easier now than before “because we are quite confident about our services and the benefits they have on the health and wellbeing of the community.”

“There are quite a few members of staff in the company who can deal with the health checks. We are doing quite a good job, being out there with our message, about how important health checks can be for the individual.”

As a pharmacy technician, Ashley is involved in training pharmacy/dispensary assistants or someone new to the workplace. Her job is to ensure that all nine O’Briens pharmacies are up to date in meeting the requirements of their Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) status. She ensures that the pharmacy campaigns are attractive, the in-store displays are visually engaging and the HLP conversations are recorded. These vital duties are in addition to providing staff training on all the services.

“Pharmacies are not just about providing prescription services, there is so much we do but unless we go out there and tell them, people won’t know. Many people over 40 aren’t even aware that they are eligible for free health checks because the GP surgeries don’t always send letters out.”

Making a difference to patient’s health outcomes.

The beginning

Ashley joined a local independent pharmacy as a shop assistant straight after high school. A year later she was promoted to work as a pharmacy dispenser in the same pharmacy.

“I didn’t go to university. Left school at the normal age of 16. I was told by my parents that I wasn’t allowed to go for further education. I needed to get a job instead. From the eldest among four children my parents probably needed my support. I didn’t question it at the time and went along with it.”

She got married aged 21 and had her first child a year later. Managing life-work balance as a mother wasn’t easy but she weathered the storm by her sheer determination to excel.

“It was not just the job but a young family that I had to think of. Part of me always wished I had questioned my parents and gone back to higher education, but that never happened. A house, a mortgage, a young family – all can take its toll. But I have no regrets.”

What she learnt early on in life is deeply ingrained – to never to turn down a good opportunity to learn. She’s motivated by a strong will to do the job well and she’s quick to embrace new ideas.

Help and support

That probably explains why she has always enjoyed good support from her supervisors and managers.

“I think they like the fact that I have always done well and progressed wherever I have worked. A little bit of it is down to myself as well because I have always pushed myself to learn more, to take on more responsibility, whereas some people are just happy to come to work and do what they are told they should do. Every day I come to work and always want to go home feeling I have done a really good job and made a difference. I am always open to something different.”

But taking on added responsibility can also mean committing more time to the job which may compromise the fine worklife balance.

“I agree, but one needs to strike a balance to keep going, and I am very conscious of not taking on too much. I make sure that the extra training responsibilities I take do not impact negatively on my family life. For example, week evenings and weekends are my own –dedicated to the family full-time. With two grown up children, it’s a lot easier now than it was before when they needed a lot of my time and attention. Now we all share our household responsibilities equally between us.”

Future technicians

Ashley is a very proud mother. Yet she wants to her son and daughter to imbibe a positive work culture and a strong sense of responsibility. And these are some of the qualities that she wants to see amongst new generation recruits who would want to start their career as a pharmacy technician.

“I think it is the attitude and behaviour of pharmacy professionals in their day-today work which make the most significant contribution to the quality of care.

“Someone who is sociable. Someone who can engage with patients – talking to them nicely and listening to them carefully. Someone who is always willing to learn new things. That’s the kind of person I would be most happy to join the profession.”

Ashley says the level of communication skills required needs to be learned from an early stage of the training, so they have the confidence and ability to do the actual job well.

The optimist

But what does she think of the current state of community pharmacy?

“Because of the budget cuts we have had since 2016, the morale has been very low. Pharmacies are quite stretched. They are operating on a shoestring budget and with the barest minimum when it comes to staffing. That has led to the existing ones feeling a lot more stressed with added workload.

“But the positive side of it is that the cuts are pushing the pharmacies such as the ones I work for to expand their services. I think we can still meet the bottom line and make more money, but we can also make a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Ashley is certainly an optimist!

Ashley Matthews is winner of Pharmacy Business Pharmacy Assistant Award 2018

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