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Benjamin D'Montigny: The bedrock of a pharmacy

"In pharmacies where there is no full-time 'good pharmacist' and locums outnumber the number of staff for 12 weeks, there is surely something wrong"

Don't underestimate the power of a good pharmacist, argues Benjamin D'Montigny

Is it enough to simply be a good pharmacist? Or does working in a community pharmacy require a wider range of skills? These were the questions that entered my head when reading a post by C+D blogger The Area Manager last month, in which he argued that “good pharmacists” struggle because they are unwilling to learn and develop skills and business management.

Having given the idea some thought, I can say that I firmly disagree. Over a number of years, my humble experience has shown me that most community pharmacies receive very little in the way of support from upper management. And the “good pharmacists” are the ones who keep a pharmacy ticking over.

The bedrock of a pharmacy

Let’s start with operating a safe and efficient dispensary, for example. I can say confidently that I have witnessed a massive gap in staffing levels in quite a few places over the past year. In pharmacies where there is no full-time “good pharmacist” and locums outnumber the number of staff for 12 weeks, there is surely something wrong.

Not having regular staff – as I’m sure anyone would agree – is likely to cause employees a lot of stress, a lack of consistency, and create a situation in which errors and mistakes are even more likely to happen. That leads to people quitting their jobs because the stress and workloads are too much to handle and a vicious circle is formed.

Services, paperwork and responding to patients and customers only work well once a foundation has been secured. Without the foundation that a “good pharmacist” offers, everything else is going to be shaky. Struggling to hit MURs? Cannot maintain good stock levels? Perhaps the root cause of the problem needs to be addressed – and that is the lack of a highly-skilled, regular pharmacist.

Lack of support

Personally, I would be very keen to see the examples The Area Manager has highlighted of good pharmacists who have struggled to perform well in the sector. It would not be a stretch to imagine that they needed more support. As someone whose primary role in community pharmacy is one of “support”, I know just how important this is. You can have the most skilled people in the world. But we are only born with two hands.

Open and honest communication is the key to solving most things, and struggling pharmacies are no different. My challenge to The Area Manager is to go to one of his “unhappy” pharmacies, talk to everyone who works there individually and make a genuine attempt to solve one of their troubles – keeping the team informed at every stage. Perhaps he will notice a positive response from the people he helps?

Inside the chaotic structure of a multiple, the head is unable to see the feet. The top tends to think everything is fine until the whole body falls down due to lack of resource. And the most vital part of keeping this body functioning is often the most overlooked: a “good pharmacist”.

Benjamin D’Montigny is a locum dispenser working in the south of England

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Harry Tolly, Pharmacist

"most community pharmacies receive very little in the way of support from upper management."

We don't need more support from management, we need more staffing ! As rightly pointed out, pharmacists only have one pair of hands and one pair of eyes and ears and can only do so much in any one day.

This is why so many choose to locum and not take on managerial roles in shops that are understaffed and chaotic.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I agree. Every pharmacy I have worked in the last 6 months has been understaffed. One of the ways area managers can support pharmacies is by ensuring a good level of staff to provide the service and not the borderline minimum.

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