In an airport pharmacy, requests for emergency supplies form a large proportion of workload


Airport pharmacy is a branch of the profession that many of us would have seen but probably thought little about, as we dashed off to far-flung destinations.

Until this year, I was like that, using them for last minute essentials before I boarded the plane, but now, I am a fully-fledged ‘airport pharmacist’ and hope to take you on a brief journey of what that entails.

Like many airport staff, my day can start really early, arriving at the airport for a 4am start, although I rotate through later shifts as well.

It is often said that working in an airport is ever changing, with no two days being the same and that is true, with customers presenting from all over the world.

To a certain degree, it appears like a busy high street pharmacy but many of our customers come from countries with different drug names and regulations – what may be available over the counter at home may not be here and vice-versa.

If they are outward bound, they may be requesting items which are subject to laws in their country prohibiting possession and this has to be borne in mind when making recommendations.

Many of us go through the mantra of money, tickets, and passport when we lock the door (did we lock it?) before setting off for the airport, but it is surprising the number of people that forget some (or all!) of their medication and only realise it when they are at the airport.

Requests for emergency supplies form the bulk of our workload compared to that of our community pharmacy colleagues.

Thankfully, the arrival of summary care records, and the new Community Pharmacist Consultation Service – to name two things, has helped greatly in our task of providing customers with appropriate medication.

In common with most pharmacies, we provide OTC advice on a wide range of conditions –always being on the lookout for red-flag symptoms that may prevent, or at least, delay a customer’s departure.

On a number of occasions, I have called the airport paramedics to assess customers that I suspect may have had a more serious condition than they originally thought, in rare cases requiring admission to hospital.

We are all used to time pressures in pharmacy, whatever area we are in and these are very apparent in a busy airport – you can rarely ask the patient to pop back in 20 minutes as their flight will often be called during that time so you have to work with one eye on the clock whilst trying to remain calm throughout.

The use of patient group directives (PGD) is incredibly beneficial to the patient in an airport environment as many customers present with conditions that can now be treated in a pharmacy setting.

The new UTI test and treat service is a good example of this – distressing at any time, but especially when you are at the start of your holiday.

An addition to this that I would personally like to see is the availability of aciclovir on a PGD to treat a flare up of genital herpes.

I have had a number of women that were very distressed to be suffering from this and had been using unorthodox methods to alleviate the symptoms.

I would also like to have training in the use of an otoscope and subsequent interpretation as earache is another common ailment that I deal with at present.

Airport pharmacy is fast-paced, exciting and immensely stimulating. I would strongly recommend it – if you are passing through Gatwick airport, pop in and say hello!

If you want to share your stories and/or experiences with us, please send an email to [email protected]