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People not patients – what matters to you?

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IN the course of a busy day in community pharmacy and the pressures we face just to get the job done, it can be easy to lose sight of our purpose.

I know what it’s like: a massive pile of prescriptions from the local GP practice to be dispensed and checked; loads of totes arrive from the wholesaler just as a patient returns for their owing from yesterday as they are going on holiday – the scrambling through all the boxes to find it’s in the last one, and of course there’s been a picking error at the warehouse; a rep wants to speak to you about how amazing their new product is; you need to find the answer to a GP query; and the dispensary computer has crashed in the middle of a prescription with complicated dosage instructions. All this happens while the phone rings incessantly, providing an unwelcome soundtrack to the drama.

On days like these, and even on less hectic days, we can be too busy dealing with routine pharmacy issues that we don’t focus on why we are really there, and it isn’t about getting through the pile of GP10s as quickly and safely as possible.

In the past I’ve provided advice to patients and listened to their stories, but been thinking “please hurry up, you have no idea how busy I am”, and been very conscious of the staring eyes of other patients waiting for “just an inhaler” and dispensers needing a pile of items checked. But occasionally, we get reminded about our priorities. And we need those reminders.

Reality check
A few months ago a lady in her 90s asked to speak to me. I left the confines of the dispensary and the pile of repeats. She gestured for me to sit down next to her. I did. She told me she was progressively becoming more confused, and one morning woke up to find herself in the front garden. I asked her to tell me again to ensure I hadn’t misheard. She hadn’t told her family and she didn’t want to trouble the doctor: “I’m so old now, I don’t think it’s worthwhile seeing the doctor. I’ve lived a good life, I don’t see any point in continuing.”

I chatted with her for about 15 minutes and afterwards wanted to give her a big hug, but I didn’t. I suggested that she speak to her family (yes it was worth troubling them) and make an appointment with her GP (they’d be able to help). I wished I’d been able to utter some real words of comfort or do something more significant to help her.

I wished her all the best, and as is the nature of doing occasional locums, I’ve not seen her again. These experiences (and there have been many over 20 years) stay with me and help me remember that community pharmacy is about people, individuals. We need to spend our time wisely and that time is best spent with people, not piles of prescriptions. As healthcare professionals we are just guests in other people’s lives, so we need to make the most of that contact and ensure that we focus on their needs and not our pressures and priorities.

This is why the NHS Scotland What matters to you? campaign resonates so clearly with me. The aim of the Scottish campaign, run by Healthcare Improvement Scotland, is to encourage and support meaningful conversations between those who provide health and social care and the people, families and carers who receive care. It’s about listening to individuals and providing care which takes into account their priorities.

So, maybe this will help serve as your reminder, at least for the next while, to remember why we do what we do. It’s about people.

If you haven’t yet watched this TEDxGlasgow talk from Professor Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Healthcare Quality and Strategy at NHS Scotland, then I urge you to watch it when you get a chance to help recharge your people-centred batteries.


Ross Ferguson is a pharmacy & healthcare writer, member of the RPS Faculty and has created a children’s medicines app, Kid-Dose. He has owned a pharmacy, worked as a locum and a pharmacy manager  

Follow Ross @rosshferguson

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