Mithun Makwana has perfected great customer care and a range of other skills. The Pharmacy Business Award winner talks to Neil Trainis

Mithun Makwana has come a long way in the almost seven years since he qualified from the University of Birmingham with his pharmacy degree. To say the Pharmacy Business Customer Care Award winner has been thrown in at the deep end would be something of an understatement.

A testing stint at a branch of Day Lewis in Southampton, where he did he pre-registration, was soon followed by periods where he found himself running pharmacies.

“I did a few acquisitions. It developed me not only clinically but commercially. Day Lewis asked me to run their pharmacy in Downton for them, a small village just outside Salisbury,” he recounts.

“Dealing with the new acquisition was not easy, it can be quite upsetting for the staff. It was a steep learning curve. The first six months were very difficult. It takes a while to win everyone over but we excelled as a business. The items and services went up. Pretty soon everyone was talking about us.”

There was more to come. “Then Avicenna went and bought three pharmacies and I ran one of those pharmacies in Bournemouth. Downton was affluent but in Bournemouth there were a lot of health inequalities,” he says.

Mithun was also posed with a problem all too familiar to many community pharmacists. The local GP surgery was not interested in talking to its local pharmacy about moving the local population’s health forward. Mithun’s persisted. And he carried on. Eventually it paid off.

“The barrier in Bournemouth was the surgeries. We didn’t have much of a dialogue with the surgeries. They didn’t like talking to the pharmacies but I was persistent with them, offering to so services such as asthma reviews.

“Finally the practice manager agreed to a meeting and I went there with my dispenser. I told them we could send them data so they could get their QOF (Quality and Outcomes Framework) points.

“Then Avicenna bought out a chain of 11 pharmacies and I had more of a regional role. I was out of the pharmacy and on the road, trying to improve all 11 pharmacies. Now I’m back in a clinical role in Bristol.”

The present is as engrossing as the past for Mithun. Currently plying his trade in a branch of Avicenna in the largely residential suburb of Bishopsworth, he is intent on reaching new health heights. As it turned out, the Pharmacy Business Awards judges were impressed with his commitment to customer care. But in truth he might have been a worthy winner of some of the other awards on offer.

“I’ve just completed my prescribing course and I’m helping the surgery with asthma with my prescribing. A lot of people die from asthma. If I do an asthma check, I can do that for the surgeries. It’s a step-up from an MUR. It’s a full clinical asthma review,” he says with pride. He has not been in Bishopsworth for long but he has made his presence felt.

“What we were delivering in terms of NHS items, they needed someone to come in and turn things around. I’ve been here for a year and a half and tried to change things around. We’ve increased retail sales and we’re up on NHS items.

“We won over a care home which helps massively in our NHS items. We’ve introduced other services. We signed up as a Healthy Living Pharmacy in April. We’re way ahead of the game in terms of Healthy Living Pharmacy. We’ve brought in more services such as weight management where we review patients.

“We also do an alcohol review service. We score people on their risk from alcohol. We do other services such as chlymadia, emergency hormone contraception, supervised administration such as methadone. Our enhanced service income is quite big.

“We did 400 flu vaccinations this year. We went to five different schools where we vaccinated teachers and staff. We put our success stories on Twitter.”

Communicating its success stories has been a weakness of community pharmacy down the years but Mithun has relished the publicity presented by social media. “We have a lot of followers on Twitter,” he enthuses.

His and his pharmacy team, which includes a driver, three HCAs, one dispenser, two accuracy checking technicians and a pre-registration student, are noticeably popular with their local community. So much so that some people have defected from two large multiples nearby to come to Mithun’s pharmacy for their health needs.

“We have two Lloydspharmacies near us. That’s where most of our patients come from. It’s just about good customer service. They feel they are looked down on in other pharmacies. Here we treat them with respect. They don’t feel like they’re waiting around.

“It’s the counter staff who are so important. They know the patients so well and when they talk to them they’ll address them by their first name.”

There is much to be proud of. Under Mithun’s guidance, the team have reduced waiting times and there has been an impressive growth in the number of items. They have also made the most of the EPS and made strides in mental health, an area of healthcare community pharmacy has yet to stamp its mark.

“We do a lot of signposting with mental health. People who are down, we refer them. People feel they can open up to me. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere here. I did an MUR with an 88-year-old man, very healthy, not many medicines,” Mithun says.

“He said he heard voices but he never told anyone. He put up with it for two years. It can be frightening particularly when you go to bed. I told him it was good that he told someone.

“I don’t like to make a diagnosis during an MUR. I just explained to him that there was a condition called schizophrenia and told him to go to the doctors.

“The doctors were keen to investigate. He had an MRI scan and it’s all under investigation. If I hadn’t told him to go to the doctor, he wouldn’t have gone.

“Everyone here is a dementia friend. We are keeping all our dispensing errors on PharmOutcomes. There has been a bit of apprehension about the Summary Care Record but it’s become a daily procedure here.”

The government’s funding cuts, potentially devastating to many community pharmacies, do not daunt Mithun. Instead he sees the opportunities.

“No cutbacks here,” he utters casually. “The key is to make things more efficient. Things are going paperless, more efficient. It’s about good dispensing processes. There’s no need for cutbacks. We can offset the cuts by providing all these services.

“We’ve been very good with flu and we’re definitely going to get enough points for the quality payments by April.”