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'I see a bright future for community pharmacy's social role in 2019'

"Providing a safe space and a sense of hope can be a dose of the best medicine right now"

Community pharmacist Ali Sparkes explains why she feels 2019 is a new opportunity for the sector to make a difference to patients' lives

Me, a C+D blogger – who’d have thought it? I’m so excited to join C+D's blogging team having read this iconic journal for rather too many decades than I’d like to admit.

My first dilemma was: Do I write in my own name or as a persona? I’m not in any way against personas, avatars or noms de plume – whatever your preferred anonymity term. But I have become rather a fan of authenticity and speaking from the heart.

So dear readers, I’d like to invite you to join me on the rollercoaster of emotion that is community pharmacy. I may write about the clinical, but feel it becoming rather overshadowed (in my mind at least) by the social.

Pharmacy has been my passion for many years, and still is, although this is now integrated with other disciplines, such as positive psychology, leadership and coaching. More than ever it's becoming important that we are authentic and show strong leadership. As much as I love technology, I’m saddened that “social” media can often be a place to be anti-social, unkind and unprofessional.

Above and beyond pharmacy we are, after all, human beings and never has there been a time to be more fully human. There’s a lot of talk about pharmacists filling a more clinical role and rightly so. However, I qualified as a fully clinical entity 30 years ago, and as an independent prescriber 10 years ago. Clinical pharmacists are not new, it’s just that our paymasters and society are slow to catch up.

In this season of hope and goodwill, I see a bright future in social, rather than clinical, activities in community pharmacy. The fact that we were once called shopkeepers felt demeaning, and I would have shouted the loudest against this.

However, I now see it as a strength – as towns up and down the land see local shops and businesses close for good, we can be a beacon of hope in the changing landscape, if we adapt to more social roles.

Community pharmacy’s pre-NHS roots were in providing health services to those who could not afford medical attention. We were always the first port of call for the needy. I think the public still perceives us this way, and we should not discount the loyalty they show over generations.

Similarly, I don’t think we should take lightly the depth of trust that exists and how much support we offer by being entrenched in communities. Mental and lifestyle health has never been talked about so much, and we can help by being authentic, being fully present and fully human.

I love this quote by the writer Anne Lamott: “Lighthouses don’t go running over an island looking for boats to save, they just stand there shining brightly.” Empathy should be our guiding light, not only for our customers, but the team we work with.

We live in uncertain times with many at breaking point, so providing a safe space and a sense of hope can be a dose of the best medicine right now.

Ali Sparkes is director of The Health Dispensary in Neath, Wales, and winner of the C+D Award for Independent Pharmacy of the Year 2017


Christopher Jay, Community pharmacist

Great article Ali, every business is about communication with customers, pharmacists must talk to all customers, socially, clinically, and in a friendly fashion. How many have learnt this art? My guess is more are better with media conversation than real conversation, I do hope I’m wrong. Too much time spent in the dispensary all to often equates to a poor listener and communicator. Keep flying the flag.



Leon The Apothecary, Student

Except Pharmacy is structured in a way that means the more knowledge you are, the less forward-facing you are to customers. We have our fresh-faced counter assistant front and centre, whilst the pharmacist and ACTs are way in the back, head down, avoiding all contact with the outside world.

Strange old place Pharamacy is, right?

Z Z, Pharmacy Asistant/ Medicine Counter Assistant

What does the social aspect mean.

Countless businesses such as small shops and post offices in the past have shouted the 'social' aspect and gone out of business. This happened long before the threat we face in community pharmacy.

Large chains that dominate pharmacy just mimic the big supermarkets that shout this message of we have an isolated society, if we have a 'bit of a chat' with people in their 60s and 70s who pick up their medication it's 'good customer service' and 'repeat business'. Except there's very little to suggest in a big chain that this is the case.

I'm sure the author who is presumably a business owner and in 100% of her own pharmacy is able to have a more real social aspect, in a big chain though, nope.

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