Day Lewis pharmacy in Chelmsford has taken the plunge into the health needs of its community. Its assistant manager Tom Duncan talks to Neil Trainis


“We were quite lucky to win the award. We have other branches quite nearby, Dagenham, Romford, and each of the branches have people doing great stuff together,” Tom Duncan says bashfully.

The assistant manager of Day Lewis in Chelmsford is affable and modest. Very modest in fact. His branch, winners of the Pharmacy Business Community Award, has a lot to be proud of in the way it improves the health and wellbeing of its population.

“We went to Chelmsford Football Club and saw many over-50s who we gave carbon monoxide tests,” he reveals. “We got quite a few high readings so we got them to come into the pharmacy. For us, we got a couple in and a few went to the other branches. I would say 10-15% of people who said they were thinking of quitting smoking came into our pharmacies.”

You could say his team literally seeks to go the extra mile for people who are in need of help. Getting out into the community is what sets apart a great pharmacy team from a good one. Tom and his team have made some telling health interventions outside of the confines of their pharmacy.

“Usually in this first part of the year we are very active and get out. One or two of us are able to get out and get cover. That wouldn’t be a problem. Day Lewis always support us if we want to do that. Day Lewis have won various awards in terms of training. They always help you go further,” he says.

His branch used to be run by Nemesh Patel, who built a hard-working team that immersed itself in its local community, visiting sports and other events and spreading messages about healthy living wherever and whenever they could. Few avenues were left unexplored be it physical or mental health.

“Across the whole of Day Lewis, not just us, when you start at the pharmacy you have to be a Dementia Friend and work with the Dementia Society, watch a video, get a badge. It makes you more aware and confident to talk to people
about dementia,” Tom says.

“It’s become a massive issue which is very sad. Unfortunately it’s becoming the next big thing in health because we are all living longer and many of us will have to face it. But Day Lewis always support us. They push people to do things other pharmacies are not.”

Nemesh was also on call seven days a week for a local palliative care hospice that provided the pharmacy with private prescriptions for complex end-of-life care, a service that was recognised by one Clinical Commissioning Group and awarded its primary care award.

“They do an outstanding service. We’ve all had a first-hand look at what they do. We used to provide medication for their patients,” Tom says.

“Nemesh would go up there and provide his knowledge and help. It was a 24/7 service but it’s no longer I’m afraid. Unfortunately you need to have a wholesale licence and ours expired in September. But it could happen again potentially.

“Because it was an end-of-life care service, you got hit when you saw a patient’s name there because you knew them. You do get emotional but we made sure we supported the hospice. But you do have a sense of disbelief when you see a patient’s name and think ‘I only spoke to them in the pharmacy the other day.’”

Nemesh’s legacy lives on at the Chelmsford branch. Having inspired those who worked under him to do the kind of things other pharmacies were not à la Day Lewis, such as working with the British Legion, The Stroke Association and local men’s walking football team to improve health outcomes, it seemed he would be a hard act to follow when he left last year.

“It’s been absolutely fine. Lovely Natasha has replaced Nemesh. She’s great. She’s been here since October and already knows the patients by their first names. There’s not been much change at all. There’s not been a complete overhaul,” Tom insists.

A seamless change in leadership at the branch has helped. Standards have not dropped. An example is the work Tom and his team have continued to do around dementia, a debilitating condition which will increase the pressure on the NHS in years to come as more people live longer. About 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, a number that will rise to one million by 2025 according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

“We may get in touch with their surgery if a patient comes into the pharmacy and is often a little confused. We train to spot very, very early signs to help them. We can support them with dosette trays and arrange carers for them. It’s about getting something started for them,” he says.

“There was a gentleman recently who was very, very confused. We suggested dosette trays for him and he’s been much better. We didn’t want to take all his independence away from him but he’s much better, he takes his medication on time now.”

The branch dispenses an impressive number of items and, as Pharmacy Business’s roving judge Richard Brown observed on his visit to the pharmacy, “has an excellent private PGD service.” Not even the government’s horrendous funding cuts have threatened to stop it in its tracks.

“It hasn’t affected us as badly as it could have but we’ve been much more conscious how we do things,” Tom says. “Day Lewis are always 100% behind you and if you want to provide a service they’ll make sure you can.

“We are looking to go a bit further and everyone is trained on simple services such as smoking cessation and all those services that people don’t want to go to the doctor for.”

Making an impact from out in the local community rather than from within the pharmacy may be easier said than done in this brave new world of sustainability and transformation plans. As far as community pharmacy is concerned it feels like a time to sink or swim.

“The first thing we did was we looked for local initiatives run by the local council that might not be known about like the large campaigns. Go for smaller initiatives, get in touch with the council, get out there and help people,” Tom suggests.

“The council will give you quite a lot of resources. A couple from the council came with us to the football club and gave out t-shirts and leaflets and were a part of it. They didn’t leave us alone. So my advice is just jump into it.

“Once you get into it, which can be the difficult bit, you start helping people and that pays for itself.”