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‘Why I tackled loneliness after winning the Above and Beyond Award’

After receiving C+D's Above and Beyond Award for his aftercare with two elderly patients, a Well relief manager reveals how he has moved on to easing loneliness in his community

Haroon Mahmood is the first-ever Above and Beyond Award-winner. Mr Mahmood topped the online C+D reader poll early this year with his account of offering two regular patients in their 80s support beyond the pharmacy after they were discharged from hospital.

But he has not always enjoyed such success. He failed his pre-registration exam by 1%, which initially “devastated” him. “I had to step back and re-evaluate my future,” he tells C+D. His resilience can be seen in his attitude to his work. “While most would have altered their career path, my passion for pharmacy spurred me on to find a solution.”

His first job was as a dispensary manager at a GP surgery in Worcester in 2010. He worked his way up from there, via a branch manager role at a Lloydspharmacy, to his position today – as a relief manager for Well pharmacies around Darlaston in the West Midlands, where he has been located for almost four years.

An award-winning service

One afternoon last year Mr Mahmood noticed that two of his patients – aged 84 and 85 – had not phoned as they usually would for their medication. Knowing their routines well, he grew concerned. He visited their sheltered accommodation to discover they had been admitted to hospital, one with septicaemia and the other with pneumonia.

Mr Mahmood took it upon himself to organise aftercare for when the patients were discharged. He spoke to the warden at the accommodation to understand more about what had happened, and what he and the pharmacy team could do to help support them when they returned from hospital.

He visited them when they were back, to check on their condition – even bringing them a get-well gift – and helped them settle in, taking essential items such as milk and bread. Through regular visits involving health checks, he was able to make sure they transitioned seamlessly from the hospital to the community.

Mr Mahmood says the experience taught him that human-to-human contact can be morale boosting – while the patients say “no other service has done the same”.

He described the experience in his entry for the Above and Beyond Award 2018, a unique category launched this year. It celebrates stories of pharmacists and pharmacy staff who go the extra mile for their patients and the sector. Mr Mahmood’s story received hundreds of votes from C+D readers, beating nine other shortlisted entrants, and he claimed the prize at a sold-out event at the Intercontinental Park Lane hotel in London in July.

Taking the next step

After helping these two patients, Mr Mahmood recognised another problem he thought community pharmacy could help with – mental health. He started a weekly session at his local church, offering support for local people living with problems such as loneliness, depression and bereavement. He and volunteers talk to these individuals about their issues, signposting them to support services in the community where necessary.

It is “amazing” how simply listening to the stories of what people are going through can help them realise that “community pharmacy does really care about them”, he says. The sessions have “opened up many patients’ horizons” and built their confidence, he says. “We’ve had quite a lot of success”.

“My whole team are champions of listening and signposting. Going above and beyond doesn’t require you to be Superman. Just be compassionate and listen.”

Overcoming obstacles

This kind of initiative encapsulates Mr Mahmood’s attitude. His action comes at a time of rising financial pressure for community pharmacy, from funding cuts to unpredictable medicines prices, while staff are simultaneously being expected to provide more services. His philosophy has always been: “If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.”

To help the staff he manages to deal with the increasing expectations in pharmacy, his teams have a weekly huddle to discuss training.

“As we go through the next couple of years, [the sector] will change – we need to keep abreast with all the information to give the best delivery of care to patients.”

“Empowering patients”

Mr Mahmood aims to offer more services in the Well branches he manages, such as weight management programmes and diabetes testing, which could be assisted by clinical commissioning groups, he says.

But Mr Mahmood isn’t resting on his laurels yet. “There's always room to do more,” he says. “The role of pharmacy is evolving.” He sees opportunity in the medicines expertise of pharmacy staff: “We have a higher knowledge of pharmaceuticals than doctors.”

He believes the key to the success of pharmacy in the future is to advance its position at the heart of the community. It's a philosophy he has lived, by going above and beyond in initiatives that help patients who need it most.

Could you win the Above and Beyond C+D Award in 2019? Entries for all 14 categories – including the new Locum of the Year Award – are now open, so find out more and enter below.

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