To preserve the community pharmacy sector and protect its interests we should be united and support each other says Altaf Vaiya

 

Pharmacy, as a profession, has slowly been changing for many years. The demands on pharmacists have increased and this has inevitably changed the way pharmacists need to think and act in many situations.

Over the past seven years, I have been trying to help mentor pre-registration students and newly qualified pharmacists to give them support in the new working environments they find themselves in. Hence, the use of many social networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp have helped me set up platforms of large groups of individuals including, pre-registration students, newly qualified and experienced pharmacists.

This was created for the sole purpose of allowing members to benefit from each other’s knowledge as well as solve a number of issues together. The success of these groups has been phenomenal.

On occasions, there have been waiting lists of people wanting to join a particular platform and be a part of the groups. With the aid of WhatsApp, many members of the profession have been able to share their dilemma regarding prescription queries such as the legal and clinical aspects of a prescription, without compromising patient confidentiality at all times.

With these groups, individuals are able to receive a response almost immediately from their peers who are available to provide advice or direct them to the answers at that particular time. It has always been a key priority for me to support, reassure and build the confidence of newly qualified pharmacists.

Watching my tutees grow into efficient and knowledgeable pharmacists is deeply rewarding. Furthermore, as the pressure on pharmacists increases in terms of their everyday workload, the provision of adequate support from organisational bodies has diminished largely.

Therefore, having pharmacists support each other in various ways is a very beneficial way to fill the gaps of inexperience. Consequently, this also links well to continued professional development as individuals are constantly learning new things from one another.

Over the years, I have been able to identify areas businesses need to focus on when employing pharmacy managers and locum pharmacists; this being mainly the hourly rates or salary payments.

It is evident that pharmacy businesses are facing major financial cutbacks, however, paying your key staff fairly and appropriately is also important. The main reason for this being that hourly rates must reflect the value of a pharmacist as a healthcare professional and it is important for businesses to respect this.

Occasionally, negotiating a rate is good practice but as businesses, we must also ensure that we are not turning away excellent pharmacists by trying to undercut their rates.

Over time, I have noticed many pharmacists, especially in recent years, have felt that being paid a good market rate value makes them feel appreciated and respected. It is also important for businesses to pay pharmacists in an appropriate and timely manner; some pharmacists have experienced having to send invoices multiple times in order to receive a payment which causes frustration and a breakdown of relationships.

In terms of staff availability, many pharmacists say that when they are booked, they are not told about staffing levels at their respective branch or when they attend to the job, they do not have appropriately trained staff to assist with their tasks.

This can leave pharmacists in vulnerable situations where they find themselves under unnecessary pressure and more likely to make mistakes. It is important for businesses that rely on locum pharmacists to have fairly competent staff at sites who know the business and can support these locums.

With regard to the use of PMRs, not everyone is familiar with all the systems, hence adding responsibility on their co-workers. It is beneficial to have staff who are present at the pharmacy to know how to use PMR at all times, as well as informing locums of the system used by a particular pharmacy in advance, thereby ensuring they are familiar with it and comfortable to work on it.

It is also important to keep important PMR supply numbers and account numbers handy and in case of any system issues, locums should be able to instantly contact the system providers in order to resolve any such difficulties.

Many newly qualified pharmacists face difficulties obtaining NHS smart cards. If businesses can support their regular locums in attaining these cards, it enables locums to use ETP services and summary care records, which in turn will help the business provide improved patient care and support.

MUR/NMS services – whilst employing locums, many businesses expect their pharmacists to carry out these services routinely and, depending on each pharmacy, work and staffing-related pressure within the pharmacy will directly affect the outcome of the number of patients engaged in these services.

However, sometimes rewarding pharmacists’ initiative by paying additional fees or bonuses to conduct MURs can encourage pharmacists by making them feel rewarded and motivated in supporting businesses to deliver specific services to targeted patients.

It is also important pharmacists are adequately supported in their training prior to carrying out certain services. For businesses that employ specific locum pharmacists on a regular basis, these locums should be offered opportunities to attend training for local services. It would be beneficial for the business as well as the locum pharmacist to get involved in team meetings so they are familiar with the business’s goals and performance.

Mentoring – everyone has an opportunity to give a little bit back from what they have learnt. Now is a great time to share your experiences with the newly qualified pharmacists.

It is important when mentoring that we give honest advice that reflects our real life experiences. It is also important that we look for solutions to potential problems without judging the inexperience of others.

Community pharmacy is going through challenges of funding cuts, we are in difficult times and the pressure to keep up with the workload whilst balancing cashflow is increasing. To help preserve our profession and protect the interests of our profession we should be united and support each other.

 

Altaf Vaiya is a pharmacist based in Leicester.

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