This year, Joanne Wilson, a healthcare assistant at Cornwell’s Chemists in Stafford, was crowned the sector’s stand-out staff member of 2016. It’s not a surprise, as Ms Wilson goes above and beyond in her job: a Dementia Friend, healthy living pharmacy (HLP) champion, smoking cessation advisor, and minor ailments practitioner are just some of the healthcare hats she wears.
So how does she manage it? Ms Wilson gave C+D her top tips for promoting community pharmacy’s work across each of these areas.
A vital lifeline for patients
For Ms Wilson, being an effective healthcare assistant has often involved coming to the rescue of vulnerable patients, both inside the pharmacy and out.
When she witnessed a regular patient, whom she knew had mental health problems, collapse in the street from an overdose, she called an ambulance, and stayed with him until paramedics arrived.
On another occasion, when a customer phoned her to say that their neighbour, who lived alone, had fallen, Ms Wilson was first on the phone to get medical support.
“[The paramedics] checked that he was OK, then I cooked him his dinner,” she says.
Ms Wilson believes listening to your customers is a key part of her role. She comes across many people who live on their own, and so takes time out to chat to them when she can, aware that a pharmacy staff member “may be the only person they see that day”.
It’s important to “listen… and have a happy disposition – it always helps if you have a big smile”, she adds.
Keeping up-to-date with product knowledge is also essential to being a healthcare hero, Ms Wilson points out. “If you don’t have the [latest] information, you can’t sell the product and you can’t give the customer a good service,” she says.
Knowledge is key to being a minor ailments practitioner
Ms Wilson approached a local GP surgery to champion the idea of a minor ailments service, covering conditions such as colds, threadworms and conjunctivitis. Now, GP receptionists can refer patients with these ailments to visit her and her pharmacy colleagues, if they cannot get an appointment at the surgery.
“This service is all about training and knowledge. So if someone presents with conjunctivitis, but has swelling and pain in their eye, we would then refer them to their doctor,” she says. “Patients are happy to talk because they respect us and know we have their best interests at heart.”
Dementia Friendship means building a rapport
Ms Wilson took part in the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme to learn about the condition and how to support affected individuals. She now wears a Dementia Friend badge in the pharmacy, which alerts the families and carers of these patients that they can come to her for help.
Being a Dementia Friend has clearly helped Ms Wilson develop close relationships with people with this cognitive condition. She recalls one customer who became confused after leaving their home, and couldn’t remember where they lived. The rapport Ms Wilson had built over time meant that “when the patient went past our pharmacy, she remembered my name.
“I phoned her doctor’s surgery to get a family contact to come for her. Meanwhile, I stayed with her, holding her hand,” she recalls.
Be a proactive HLP champion
Being a HLP champion means promoting pharmacy services covering a range of health issues, including blood pressure monitoring, diabetes checks and flu jabs. To do this, Ms Wilson visited the local Women’s Institute, as well as nearby offices and schools, to promote the services Cornwell’s offers.
Encouraging engagement requires a proactive approach. For example, Ms Wilson contacts schools directly about pharmacy flu jabs, then “shouts out loud about the service”, she says. Schools pay for their staff to have flu jabs at Cornwell’s, and Ms Wilson believes their investment has paid for itself – sickness rates amongst school staff in the community are down since the service started in 2012, she says.
“It’s a handy service, because teachers don’t always have time to have the jab,” she says.
Securing cessation rates
Ms Wilson doesn’t limit her work as a smoking cessation advisor to customers at Cornwell’s. Instead, she contacts local businesses to make them aware she will come to their premises to help their staff quit.
To help raise awareness about the service, Ms Wilson talks to the human resources departments of local companies to get permission to display fliers in staffrooms, encouraging smokers to take part in a 12-week quitting programme.
“Everybody knows smoking is not good for them,” she explains. “It’s important to let people know they don’t need to visit a doctor to quit, because a smoking cessation service is available at their local pharmacy.”
It’s just one more role that Ms Wilson believes adds up to make for “happier patients”.