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How my pharmacy responded to a nightmare flood before Christmas

A Lincolnshire contractor describes the shock of being told the pharmacy where he has spent 11 years building a business had been badly flooded

Ehsan Hussain recounts his experience of being told water was gushing from the ceiling of Stamford Pharmacy, where he is a pharmacist and a director, when he was on a family holiday to Morrocco:

On Monday December 19, the team went in as normal. We open at 8am, so the team got there for 7.30am to get things prepped and ready for opening.

As they went in, they noticed there was no electricity in the property and a lot of water – in some places up to the ankles. Some water had already started draining into the basement below. The first thing they noticed when they walked in was the internal alarm had no power. There were no lights. No electricity.

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The weather was cold, but it wasn’t raining. We’d had about a week of freezing weather. I had gone on a last-minute trip abroad to get some sunshine.

We’d got ahead for Christmas. A lot of the prescriptions were done the weeks before. I’d therefore booked a few days away abroad.

 

“There was water everywhere”

 

I then got a phone call on Monday morning to say there was quite a serious disaster on our hands. I was in Morocco.

Our resident pharmacist reported that the ceiling was sagging in the middle, and there was water quite literally coming down from the ceiling across the whole shop, onto both dispensaries, computer equipment, prepared prescriptions that were ready to collect and drugs that were in stock.

It was quite a lot to take in. I was sent a video call by one of the dispensing team members – and that’s when the scale of the whole issue became apparent. I could see and hear water, not pouring or dripping, but literally gushing down from the ceiling from various places.

Read more: Vote now for these 12 stories of pharmacists and pharmacy staff going ‘above and beyond’

Buckets around the shop were filling to the brim within minutes. The amount of water was beyond comprehension.

The pharmacist had an umbrella opened indoors, and was doing her best to manoeuvre objects and prescriptions. She did that for quite a while before giving up – there was water everywhere.

 

“I watched this shop – 11 years of work – get destroyed”

 

I orchestrated as much as I could from Morocco, ringing several pharmacists, a local builder, two plumbers and an electrician, all within the space of the first hour – including the landlord and Anglian Water.

The builder came and turned off the water internally before 9am. The chap upstairs from the flat above where the flooding was happening was on holiday. We couldn’t get through to the agent [of the flat]. I was watching this shop – 11 years of work – get destroyed.

Read more: The pharmacy team that gave over 1,000 COVID-19 vaccinations

The water had taken out the ceiling between the first and second floors. All this water sat on the ceiling above the pharmacy. Within a couple of hours of the staff being there, the ceiling gave way and came down and caused a lot of further damage.

A patient and friend who does maintenance work managed to go to the hardware store. He was one of the first people I called from Morocco. He purchased a stopcock that stopped the water.

I believe this single action saved the pharmacy or the building would have been condemned – the entire ceiling would have come down. This meant the electrics were able to come back on.

 

Personal and professional emergencies

 

Around the same time this was happening, I was getting phone calls from family members that my mum had been rushed into hospital. I was making inquiries about Mum’s health and at the same time checking up with pharmacists

Two senior pharmacists and friends from my former university left their practices in Yorkshire and came down to help out at the pharmacy.

Another pharmacist and one of our directors of business came down from Solihull on Monday [December 19] and didn’t leave until Tuesday night.

Once the electrics were made safe, we did our best to get the building as dry as possible so that on Tuesday we could start again – redoing the prescriptions that had already been lost.

 

“We had to travel across the desert”

 

I got back on the Tuesday morning – I had to travel from the south of Morocco to Marrakech and take the first available flight with family. We had to travel across the desert, taking a very expensive taxi ride for five or six hours.

As soon as we landed, I went straight to the hospital to check on my mum. After a couple of hours by her bedside, from that Tuesday, as well as hospital visits, I spent the majority of my waking hours at the pharmacy, including Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and all of the holidays, along with many members of staff, who went above and beyond to a degree which I will never be able to repay them for.

Read more: The pharmacy team that ensures patients never have to wait more than five minutes for prescriptions

Including the driver there are eleven staff in my team.

Our driver was still delivering on Christmas Eve. A pharmacist pre reg who never left Stamford Pharmacy and who knows the shop and patients as well as I do – our resident pharmacist and the dispensers made sure no one went without medication.

 

“It’s been a mammoth task”

 

These guys are what pharmacy is all about. I don’t think anyone in this current climate within the NHS does anything for money – we work for patients because we have a passion to deliver quality healthcare.

How my staff responded to the situation was just amazing – I couldn’t ask for any more from any of them.

Read more: The pharmacy team that helped vulnerable patients get their COVID-19 vaccinations

During the first few days after December 19, there was limited access to [the pharmacy for] patients – we would serve them at the door as it was still very dangerous to come in. By the Friday, we had cleared enough of a section for them to come just inside, but not have free rein of the shop floor.

It’s been a mammoth task.

Like most pharmacies, you go from dispensing 700 items a day up to 2,000 [during the festive period]. During the week before Christmas, imagine having to redo most of those prescriptions. It almost doubled our workload.

The timing of this could not have been worse – the week before Christmas, the busiest week of the year.

 

“Stamfordians love independence”

 

I rang the dispensary manager and said that every minute that goes by, thousands of pounds of drugs were being destroyed, some of which were not available to re-order. A secure room was cleared out in the doctor’s surgery, and staff and patients loaded up medicines into cars and took them from the pharmacy to the surgery. One pharmacist helped load on one side and another unloaded at the surgery, so we could account for every single prescription item.

Lots of patients helped – too many to mention.

Stamford has an independent culture – [and] we’re an independent pharmacy. It’s a quintessential old school pharmacy. Stamfordians love independence.

Read more: The pharmacy team that delivered 240,000 COVID-19 vaccinations

Our patients want us to do well. Our staff go above and beyond for them. In our time of need, our patients did their best for us, asking if there was anything they could do for us. That meant an awful lot.

It’s a testament to the character of the staff that work for us that even among all this flooding, they were continuing to sign up new patients – still carrying on almost like normal.

I’ve been close to tears more than I care to remember. In the last few weeks I’ve learned more about how much resilience the people that work with us have.

 

What’s next?

 

As far as we know, everybody got their prescriptions this Christmas – there have been no complaints.

At the moment, we’re in an interim phase where we’ve had builders and electricians in. We’ve got two new computers. We’ve done enough to keep operating at almost full capacity.

We’re hoping to do a full refit within the coming weeks to come back even bigger and stronger than before.

And one thing that I'm very, very proud of is at no point did we infringe on our NHS contractual obligations – in fact we were open more than the number of hours that we needed to do, quite simply because we needed to be – either for filling prescriptions or cleaning throughout that period.

Mum is out of hospital and we’re praying for her health and wellbeing.

Read more: The pharmacy team that pulled together to look after the local community after a fatal gas explosion

I appreciate our local community and am very proud of our staff and all of their achievements – and the fact that people are coming in with their gratitude that we manged to do what we were able to do.

[It is wonderful] just knowing that we’ve got the support of community – that they are there for us in difficult times as well as good times.

I think we’re very lucky that we had the right people at hand; it could have been a lot worse than it actually was.

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