Helen Clark, chief pharmacist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, talks about the pharmacy department at the facility…
How would you describe your pharmacy?
The pharmacy department at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre provides chemotherapy and supportive treatments to almost all solid tumour patients in Merseyside and Cheshire. Our MHRA-licensed production unit provides approximately 6,000 injectable dose units for the provision of chemotherapy per month, 70,000 doses per annum.
We have over 40 members of staff who are involved in the management of medicines costing over 30 million pounds and they provide clinical pharmacy services, education and training and are involved in pharmacy research and clinical trials.
The Centre has a community pharmacy on site which has recently opened as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trust and aims to provide patients with efficient expert oncology pharmacy advice.
What is the best thing about being a pharmacist?
The best thing about being a chief pharmacist is leading a motivated team and being able to make a real difference to patients. Medicines are used across the Trust, not just within the chemotherapy area, and it is important to manage medicines used for all of our patients, including those receiving radiotherapy treatments.
What is your advice on running a good pharmacy?
My best advice would be to have the patients’ best interests at the heart of everything you do. Safety is paramount, especially when dealing with high risk medicines such as chemotherapy. Being a good pharmacist involves not just being up-to-date with the latest clinical developments, but being able to work together as a team with other health care professionals, which is one of the great things about being based at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.
In terms of running a company, you need to be able to effectively monitor performance. Patients are best placed to help monitor this performance and their feedback helps shape service development of the future. I am in a very privileged position of being able to oversee a hospital pharmacy and also a community pharmacy. I can see the benefits of joint working and how each sector can learn from the other and work together to provide better patient care.
What part of the business is most challenging to work in?
There is no single area which is more challenging than another. The challenge is to always continue to improve services for patients. It’s difficult to think of many negative aspects of my role to be honest, but I would say that the NHS restructure and the economic climate have introduced a great deal of challenges when it comes to continuing to improve services, as cost savings have to be made at the same time.
Looking at this from a different perspective though, I believe that the challenge has been used in a positive way and has encouraged innovation.
What kind of role can community pharmacists play in cancer care?
The real clue is in the name “community pharmacists” as opposed to “retail pharmacists.” Community pharmacists are in a privileged position of being able to care for individual patients, families, carers and the local communities and being able to individualise medicine usage and tailor services to improve access to and outcomes from treatments.
Aside from dispensing and supplying medicines and managing minor ailments, the community pharmacy team can support cancer care by developing services to provide specialist cancer care.
Some of these services are already provided, including home care and home delivery, healthy living advice, early detection of cancers (e.g. bowel cancer screening, skin cancer awareness), smoking cessation, vaccination, travel advice (sun protection) and community health education programmes.
Supporting cancer survivorship is increasingly important with advances in the management and treatment of cancers. Some cancers can now be considered a long term condition and in the future one in three of us will be affected by cancer at some point in our lives.
The Community Pharmacy Call to Action is an opportunity for community pharmacists to shape the future of local services and help develop future health strategies that harness the many strengths and opportunities available to pharmacy. Community pharmacy services for cancer need to be recognised within this too.
If you were to give up pharmacy tomorrow, what would you do?
If I were to give up pharmacy tomorrow I would probably retrain as a life coach. I have always been fascinated with what makes people tick and how they are motivated. I would like to help people to overcome some of their fears and doubts and help them get the most out of life.

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