All hands on deck: McKeevers Chemists Fivemiletown
Store manager Yvonne Cunningham says the team at McKeever Chemists Fivemiletown are a prime example of a team working together and doing what pharmacies do best – supporting patients.
“Like all pharmacies, the fabulous work they do often seems to be without reward, certainly without direct financial reward, but the hidden unspoken reward is job satisfaction that comes from helping and transforming lives,” she says.
“We believe that by recognising the many small sustainable interventions, which when collated together have an overall significant impact on the local community’s health and well-being, it will be an inspiration and encouragement to all pharmacies.”
The store was originally owned by the McSweeney Pharmacy Group when Paul McKeever bought it eight years ago to become a vital part of the 29-strong McKeevers Chemists, which has 20 branches in Northern Ireland, six in Liverpool, two in Manchester and one in Co Monaghan.
Passion for health promotion
The team in Fivemiletown have a passion for health promotion and have made a huge impact on the community where they live, according to Yvonne.
“The pharmacy has its heart centred on the community’s health and well-being, with the diversity of the community reflected in the diversity of projects the team have delivered,” she says.
“The Fivemiletown Pharmacy team are experienced and continue to push themselves individually through extra training and courses, helping the pharmacy grow alongside the community and develop to meet its changing needs.
“They have great insight to the needs of the community, identifying vulnerable patients and going the extra mile to support them. The team practise equality, respect and have a non-judgemental attitude to all. They are approachable and go above and beyond the call of duty to serve and provide healthcare and improve well-being to all in the community.”
The team offers core pharmacy services, such as dispensing medications and providing healthcare advice.
“Fivemiletown offers all NHS pharmacy contracted services including vaccines, minor ailments / pharmacy first, smoking cessation, multiple dispensing services with compliance aids and medicine disposal,” Yvonne says.“A number of our pharmacies are involved in the Palliative Care Network, and they are always open to help any patient in need of out of hours care. Our pharmacists are involved with the BCPP (Building the Community Pharmacy Partnership) program. This supports communities and community Pharmacists to work in partnership to address locally defined needs.”
As an essential service, McKeevers Chemists remained open throughout the pandemic, putting the correct measures in place to serve and provide the same level of healthcare throughout the unpredicted lockdown measures that had to be overcome.
“At the start of the pandemic there was a sense of urgency and panic among our local communities. Patients were mostly concerned about how they will get their medication,” Yvonne explains.
“As the lockdown measures increased, this meant less footfall in our store and a massive increase in telephone/video calls and e-mails from customers, patients, GPs, nursing and residential homes.
“Less face-to-face interaction has been one of the toughest hurdles for us as we are a very community-focused pharmacy. Across all pharmacies McKeevers Chemists had appointed employees to answer incoming calls at head office and branch levels. It was all hands on deck and everyone got involved despite their job role.
“Customer Service, Accounts, HR, Procurement and Marketing departments were on standby to answer any queries via telephone, email and social media, then filter these back to the stores to keep them in the loop especially if they were requests from their customers.
“Buying teams were key throughout the pandemic as they were able to predict markets with supply shortages, working hard ensuring difficult to source medicines reached patients on time.
“Fivemiletown staff were making outgoing calls and sending emails to our patients, customers, nursing and residential homes, reassuring them that they will still receive the same level of service with detailed contingency plans in place. These were communicated as things changed and they were kept up-to-date continuously.”
Fivemiletown installed Perspex screens around each of the dispensaries and tills to keep staff safe from the public and to give customers confidence when they entered the store, and one way systems flows were applied to reduce contact between customers and staff, including signage and floor markings.
“McKeevers Chemists introduced policies which were communicated to ensure all staff could continue to offer the same high quality service in a safe and effective manner, maintain social distancing and ensure PPE was accessed and worn correctly.”
The worsening of the pandemic placed staff under more and more pressure, and despite the challenges and the new ways of working in-store and online, Fivemiletown really have gone above and beyond to support their local communities.
The delivery of shop items and prescriptions increased drastically. Staff members including dispensary assistants and pharmacists supported with deliveries even after their shifts ended.
They worked with local transport companies who had to close during the pandemic but were able to help deliver more patient medications to reduce the number of people calling in store.
“There were patients isolating because they were vulnerable or had tested positive so Fivemiletown introduced measures to deliver their medication in a safe and contactless way to ensure they had the same access to medicines they always had,” Yvonne says.
“The branch team would have rang the patients and given them a delivery slot and asked where they would like the delivery driver to leave their prescription and if they needed any other medical essentials, such as OTC medicines.
“All staff worked around the clock to deal with the workload. Staff members worked overtime to ensure no patient was left without their medication. The dedication the staff has shown throughout the pandemic is incredible and the care they have for their patients.
“I am really proud of each and every one of them. Some staff said they wouldn’t sleep at night if they thought someone didn’t get their prescription. They have even given customers their personal mobile number so they could ring them directly if it was an emergency.”
Spurring each other on
Despite the ever-changing landscape, the team work efficiently and communicate well together, spurring each other on with new ideas and suggestions to improve themselves, the business and the lives of all in the community.
“Pre Covid Fivemiletown had promoted extra services such as flu vaccines, so it was no surprise we were seen as a 1st point of call when Covid vaccines were introduced in Community Pharmacies. Having been established as a provider of vaccines, the team were able to promote and deliver Covid-19 and Flu vaccines throughout 2021, administering over 1000 vaccines.
“While all members work across all sectors of the pharmacy supporting each other, they all hold individual responsibilities bringing their own strengths and personality to the team,” Yvonne says.
“They prioritise and run the dispensary so efficiently and are always looking for new ways to streamline the dispensing process.”