Community pharmacy has to work harder than ever to demonstrate its worth in the face of the Government consultation about proposed funding cuts that look set to hit every pharmacy in England. Support from the public and patients for pharmacy is not in doubt, as the 1.8 million signatures on the ‘Support your local pharmacy’ petition showed. But the Government remains unconvinced, and investigations into pharmacy services by national newspapers, television programmes, and Which? frequently show pharmacy in a poor light.
As the first point of contact for the public and mystery shoppers, support staff are vitally important in the battle to uphold the reputation of the whole profession. However, while the last Which? report into community pharmacy did not reflect well on pharmacy generally, counter staff came in for particular criticism. That report, published in 2013, rated two-thirds of pharmacy visits handled solely by counter assistants as unsatisfactory. And another Which? investigation is likely to take place in the near future.
The issue that many pharmacy owners are now facing is how to maintain high standards while their funding is being cut. Some may be thinking about cutting back on staff and training costs in response to the Government funding cuts, but pharmacy’s professional bodies strongly advise against such tactics. “Training can seem like an obvious thing to cut when money is short, but having well-trained and knowledgeable support staff can pay dividends,” says Sue Hobdey, head of professional development at the National Pharmacy Association. “This will enable pharmacists to manage their time effectively by delegating suitable tasks. In order to do this, pharmacists need first to identify the skill mix and working practices within their pharmacy.”
Mandeep Mudhar, director of marketing at Numark, agrees. “Pulling investment in support staff now would be a false economy, resulting only in short-term savings. In reality, with funding cuts on the horizon, it’s arguably more important than ever to think about building a solid business in the long term, and support staff have a key part to play in that.”
It is vital for patient safety that support staff are trained, says Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni. “Staff may think it takes large amounts of time which won’t fit in with their life, but there are plenty of bite-sized opportunities too, and it can also be done online.”
The developing role of community pharmacy is creating many more opportunities for support staff, and Mr Soni believes that staff are increasingly motivated to take advantage of these opportunities. Also, the skills learned during training are transferable to other areas of life so, for example, learning consultation skills can provide benefits in a variety of other situations.
Training should be seen as an investment rather than an expense, believes Liam Stapleton, superintendent pharmacist at Warman-Freed Learning Pharmacy. Some training is mandatory and it is important pharmacy teams maximise the benefit of this, he says.
Mandatory training is in place to protect the public, ensuring that there is a consistent skill set in place and current awareness of best practice. “Failure to ensure training is not only completed, but in turn implemented, risks making mistakes in the dispensing process or through poor recommendations, which may directly impact the customer or patient,” says Liam. “This can result in a poor customer experience, diminishing the confidence individuals have in their local pharmacy but also the profession as a whole.”
Morale may be low in some pharmacies as owners consider how to manage the impact of funding cuts, but Sue stresses the important role that support staff continue to play. “You are part of a network of care that is vital to the health of the nation. Everyone working in the sector deserves praise for the day-to-day work of safely supplying medicines and giving face-to-face advice to millions. Despite the current and projected financial pressures, there are fundamental strengths in community pharmacy. To play your part in the future, personal development is a must.”
Well-trained staff are an important element of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) standards for pharmacy premises. Principle two states that staff should be empowered and competent to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of patients and the public.
Additional GPhC guidance states: “The staff you employ and the people you work with are key to the safe and effective practice of pharmacy. Staff members, and anyone involved in providing pharmacy services, must be competent and empowered to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of patients and the public in all that they do.”
During a GPhC inspection, inspectors will speak to all members of the pharmacy team and observe their interactions with each other, as well as with patients and members of the public. They will also observe the roles and functions of the team. Pharmacies that achieve higher ratings will typically have staff who are clear about their roles, understand when they need to involve the responsible pharmacist and demonstrate how they are improving outcomes for individual patients.
“Our inspectors will be looking to see how staff identify and learn from any mistakes and how they are encouraged to put forward suggestions for improvement,” says the GPhC. “They will also look at how pharmacy staff work in partnership with other healthcare providers and whether they are able to raise
concerns about safety.”
Liam Stapleton, superintendent pharmacist at the Warman-Freed Learning Pharmacy in London, explains how investing in staff training has improved customer service
“At the Warman-Freed Learning Pharmacy, we observed that customer service in healthcare was not what we wanted it to be, with too many transactional experiences and not enough focus on offering advice and support. As a team, we took a step back and reflected on what we wanted Warman-Freed to stand for – a complete healthcare provider where every customer experiences exceptional customer service. This focus has allowed us to identify the changes and improvements we need to make to achieve this ambition:
Knowledge: we ensured that team members were all on track with their healthcare assistant courses to give them a base knowledge and checked to make sure they were confident and had a good understanding, drawing on online materials from Alphega to expand knowledge in specific areas.
Skill: we arranged a number of customer service workshops with the support of a key supplier, focusing on the skills of questioning, explaining, recommending and advising customers.
Attitude: we spent time discussing our mission and identity. We needed our team to undwerstand why we were asking them to change the service they provided to customers.
As a result, we’re seeing the team provide a different level of customer service, with a real focus on effectively identifying customers’ needs and providing more advice to support bespoke product recommendations where appropriate. The team are creating better relationships with customers and a more positive experience overall that is reflected in a growth in sales across a number of categories within healthcare.”
Anyone involved in providing pharmacy services must be competent and empowered to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of patients and the public