Why did you become a pharmacist?
When I was thinking about going to University I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I felt that I needed a course that would offer flexibility in terms of career opportunities and Pharmacy seemed to fit well with that. I thought I’d want to go down the pharmaceutical industry route, but then as an undergraduate, I started working in community pharmacy, and also had exposure to military, hospital and prison pharmacy departments. I found that I really enjoyed patient contact, especially those who were more vulnerable as a result of their substance misuse or mental health problems and liked being able to apply my clinical knowledge.
Could you describe your career pathway so far?
I qualified as a pharmacist in 2008. I started off in acute secondary care, and after a couple of years moved to a specialist mental health role. The management of substance misuse, even as an undergraduate was always a particular interest, so about 5 years ago I left the NHS and moved to the third sector for an organisation that allowed me to specialise further. As well as working full time, I have regularly worked out of hours community pharmacy locum shifts, and currently, my additional professional commitments include the Council of the College of Mental Health Pharmacy (CMHP), Drug Science’s Scientific Committee and the MEP Advisory Panel. My other training and expert advisory work vary, but in the last year has included the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), NHS, NICE, MORPh, Public Health England (PHE) and BBC’s Eastenders.
You have an interest in mental health pharmacy. Why?
I’ve had experience of supporting people who have problems with their mental health (including substance misuse) in both my professional and personal life. I’m passionate about the delivery of high quality and safe services which the most vulnerable in our society can also have equal access to, and working in the sector enables me to feel like I might be doing something to help, even if it’s only in a very small way.
Have you completed any additional qualifications in the area of mental health?
As I’ve specialised, I’ve also continued with postgraduate education. I’m currently studying for a Doctorate. My other qualifications include a postgrad Certificate and MSc in psychiatric pharmacy. I’m also a qualified independent prescriber in substance misuse and an accredited senior trainer for the RCGP certificates in drug and alcohol misuse.
Could you describe a typical working day for you?
There is no ‘standard’ day: but this is also something about a national role that I enjoy. The variety keeps it interesting; however, meetings and emails are definitely a theme. It’s busy fitting things in with busy family life and other activities outside of work.
Are you a member of any professional bodies? Which ones and why are you a member?
I pay for membership fees to the RPS, SMMGP, CMHP and I’ve always supported the Pharmacist Defence Association (PDA) too. The CMHP is particularly important to me: I’m currently Registrar with responsibility for the credentialing portfolio. CMHP membership gives free access to a dynamic online forum of international experts and is a ‘safe space’ to ask questions, share ideas and learning.
What is credentialing and why does it matter?
Credentialing with CMHP provides supportive evidence of a pharmacist or pharmacy technician’s expertise in psychiatry. When I’ve been involved in recruiting or recommending people, knowing that they’re credentialed has provided assurances that they are of a recognised level of experience.
What are the big issues that concern you at the moment in mental health pharmacy?
Specifically, within substance misuse, the escalation in the number of drug-related deaths is a significant issue, as is the cuts to services, compounded by the on going high cost of buprenorphine. I am really pleased to see an increased interest in the misuse of over the counter and prescription only medication as there is so much work to be done in this area.
What are the risks of pharmacists taking on more responsibility in the area of mental health pharmacy?
Upskilling people to be able to take on new roles is really important. Also having the right support structure, for example, adequate protected time and processes in place for clinical supervision is essential. However, I think the same applies across all professions: it’s important that the right people are in the right jobs and that they get the right support.
Are there any particular traits or skills that pharmacists who specialise in mental health need?
Empathy, good communication skills and professional curiosity are really important- but that’s not unique to mental health pharmacy!
What contribution to caring for people with mental health issues would you expect from a community pharmacist?
Knowing when and where to refer is essential. It’s important that we’re not afraid to ask ‘difficult’ questions regardless of the sector we’re working in. Mental health issues are common, and so community pharmacy colleagues will have lots of opportunities to support people accordingly.
Do you think suicide prevention techniques should be taught to community pharmacists?
Absolutely! There are some really good resources out there, including the CPPE package on suicide awareness.
What has been your proudest moment so far as a pharmacist?
I’m not sure I can think of any single moment, but in my first Chief Pharmacist role, I lead the development of a fantastic national team of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. Facilitating new posts and getting more people upskilled to work in the field, then seeing them get increasing recognition for their achievements really made me proud.
As a profession how should we reward pharmacists for outstanding practice?
That’s a difficult one.
The most ‘outstanding’ pharmacists I know aren’t really motivated by money, post-nominals or accolades. They’re often the people who are doing amazing things without even realising it. I wonder if I was to ask those individuals what would they like as a reward if they’d respond with something along the lines of “give me the resources I need so that I can do my job even better”.
Are you optimistic about the future of pharmacy in the UK?
There’s increasing recognition of the pharmacy profession, but it’s also important that it’s supported to flourish accordingly. This is especially important when thinking about adequate funding (including for staffing levels and remuneration for services), provision of high-quality training and support so that people don’t ‘burn out’.
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently moved into a new Director of Pharmacy role for Humankind, a national charity with an expertise in substance misuse. I’m really looking forward to developing the role of pharmacy, new innovative ways of working and continuing to collaborate with academic institutions. I’ve also just started some research work as part of my Doctorate work so I’m about to get stuck into a systematic literature review and ethics applications so I can progress with this too.
What advice would you give to pharmacists who wish to pursue a career in mental health pharmacy?
Join the CMHP and get involved. There’s not nearly enough of us and it will be great to see more people working in the field, especially as there are more training and support becoming increasingly available. The CMHP Psych 1 and 2 courses, and also the CMHP Foundation Certificate provide excellent opportunities for this.
Have a look at the CMHP website or get in touch for more details: www.cmhp.org.uk.