NI to get first clinical-only pharmacy: Draperstown’s Laurence O’Kane unveils his plans

NI to get first clinical-only pharmacy: Draperstown’s Laurence O’Kane unveils his plans

Northern Ireland is set to get its first clinical-only community pharmacy, under plans outlined by Draperstown pharmacist Laurence O’Kane.

Laurence owns two community pharmacies in the mid Ulster town and is in the process of transforming his High Street premises into Northern Ireland’s first clinical-only community pharmacy, offering an extended range of services and a focus purely on health promotion and products to improve health.

“The shop at 11/13 High Street is about 2,500 sq ft and I’m going to turn it into a completely clinical pharmacy with two surgery rooms,” Laurence says.

“There will be no front of shop, other than health-related products, so we’re not selling any shampoos etc. It will be purely pharmacy-only medicines, OTC medicines, vitamins, medical devices, and products aimed at improving your health.  We will also focus strongly on promoting healthy options, working with all local community groups and sports clubs.  We will work closely with our local GP practice to improve the health of the local community.

Giving back

“I’m doing it because I am from Draperstown and I want to give something back to the local people.  I know there’s a need, I know there’s demand – I think people are finding it more and more difficult to access GPs throughout Northern Ireland, and I believe by providing a very clinical setting it will make patients more comfortable to talk to our highly trained pharmacists and pharmacy staff.

“We also intend to deliver a range of services eg. ear suction, cryotherapy, hearing aids, monitoring blood pressure, blood sugars, BMI. We will deliver weight management programmes and deliver the full public health agenda.”

Mr O’Kane says that following the renovation, the premises will almost be like a mini-surgery and his pharmacists are very excited about its launch, planned for later this summer.

“It will have two clinical rooms, a dispensary and a weekly dispensing robot. I’m not sure if it’s going to be financially successful but the staff are very excited and the community are very interested in the facility,” he says.

Hometown pharmacy

Laurence just recently renovated Healthcare Pharmacy, his larger premises based in the former police barrack site which he acquired about 10 years ago. He now employs five pharmacists across the two sites.

He says he originally “fell” into pharmacy at the suggestion of his brother Mickey-Joe who was teaching him A Level Chemistry – “I didn’t have any wonderful plan in my life”.

“When I graduated in 1984, the goal was always to open up a pharmacy in my hometown, and in 1986, I bought a former tailor’s shop in Draperstown and renovated it,” he says.

“I opened up with two staff, Mary Noonan and Christine Farrelly  – Christine is actually still with us.  Community pharmacy was very different then and Draperstown was fairly deprived with unemployment rates of 35%.

“I was living in the flat above the shop so I would have been open from very early in the morning to very late at night.  It was a great time in my life working with and for people that I knew, people that I liked and grew up with. It was the right place to be and it felt right for me.

“I bought Phil McGarrity’s and Paddy Heron’s pharmacies in Draperstown in October 1989. . I employed Sharon Diamond, as a lead pharmacist and she became a partner in the shops with me.

“I bought the old police barracks site about 10 years ago, renovated it and turned it into a new modern shop, HealthCare Pharmacy, with parking for the pharmacy and GP practice patients.”

Innovative services

Laurence has always been at the forefront of delivering new services from his pharmacies.  He was a lead pharmacist along with John Mc Grath and Fiona McConnell on one of the first smoking cessation pilots in Northern Ireland back in 2000 which saw the 15 Mid Ulster GP practices referring smoking cessation patients to 21 community pharmacies.

“We did it for a three-month pilot. We enrolled and advised 1,301 patients, with a 57% quit rate after 12 months. It was one of the simplest but most effective schemes that I have engaged in. It was the foundation of the regional pharmacy smoking cessation scheme – think of the amount of lives that were potentially saved over the years, or the years that were added to lives,” he says.

The pharmacies in Draperstown also stepped up to the mark during the pandemic.  O’Kane’s offered extended opening hours and made itself very accessible to patients at the time of the crisis.

Pandemic pressures

“Patients were quite anxious at the start so we rearranged the shop at very short notice, we extended our hours and we rearranged our flow so customers were well separated from each other,” Laurence says.

“We also had separate times for elderly people to come in as they were a bit more nervous at this time.

“There was a local group established which we were a key part of – the Ballinascreen Support Group.  It had membership made up from local sports clubs, SVP, and different people from the locality who wished to support our most vulnerable. They were doing food deliveries as well so we trained them on medicine delivery.”

As Covid vaccinations were introduced, O’Kane’s liaised with the GP surgery to make sure that instead of replicating their work, they were providing broader vaccination cover to the community.

“People were nervous about being close to each other so the vaccinations we offered them throughout the day from 8 in the morning to late in the evening for those working for that first month or two,” he says.

“We work closely with the GP surgery and we were aware where we could add to the overall aim to protect the whole community. We offered clinics during the day by appointment as normal within the pharmacy, we also had walk-ins on those days and we had separate clinics on Saturdays just for vaccination only in the High Street pharmacy as it is normally closed then.

Local clinics

“The local Church of Ireland Minister contacted us to deliver a clinic in the hall in Tobermore as they had a lot of elderly patients who were having difficulty  travelling to Draperstown or Maghera. Two of my pharmacists went down to the church hall and delivered them there.

“Overall we had a very positive response from people as to how we helped and supported our patients. We always have been at the core of the Ballinascreen community but I believe that our actions in the pandemic has elevated the status of O Kane’s Chemist within our community.

The tremendous work carried out by community pharmacies and their accessibility during the pandemic have created an opportunity for us to be at the forefront of health delivery. Laurence says.

“At a time when access for patients to health professionals was being reduced, community pharmacy stepped up.  Patients value their input and understand better their professional skills.  I hope that government through the Department of Health recognise the role community pharmacy can play in the future delivery of health care.

Forefront of healthcare 

“If patients were registered to community pharmacies, were properly integrated into the patient care records, had access to diagnostic blood results and prescribing data, then they could, I believe, manage most if not all of the repeat dispensing within Northern Ireland.

“This would free GP time to deal with patients, diagnosing instead of wasting clinical time going through bundles of repeat prescriptions, most of which they haven’t time to check because of time constraints.

“Pharmacists are the medicine experts. The young pharmacists I am meeting want clinical roles. They want to use their skills and knowledge to help patients.

“The tendency recently has been to create pharmacy roles in GP Surgeries.  While I recognise a need for this, it doesn’t improve patient access to professional support. Clinical community pharmacy will deliver that and it will support our GP colleagues as the numbers decrease in the next ten years.

Leadership needed

“The department need to be more proactive in this, I believe. It will take brave leadership, innovative thinking, investment in community pharmacy both in staff and IT and a desire to have a sustainable model for all the patients across Northern Ireland.

“Community pharmacy needs to step up as well but the buildings are there in all our communities – we just need clearly directed services with measurable outcomes.  No-one in community pharmacy is afraid of targets.

“In a rural community like where we’re from we need to start thinking differently about healthcare delivery. People are lost as to where to go and where to turn to. We’re seeing that more and more people are looking for help in all sorts of ways.  Transforming Your Care needs to start by supporting primary care. The department needs to recognise that a key provider of primary and community care is the Community Pharmacy.”

To read the full article in Neighbourhood Retailer magazine, click HERE.