Saving the day: Campbell’s Pharmacy Portrush store profile

Saving the day: Campbell’s Pharmacy Portrush store profile

It was a fraught time for any pharmacy navigating the pandemic – but the entire team pulled together and saved the day.

Vincent Campbell says the state of the art refit of his Portrush pharmacy was incredibly timely, happening shortly before Covid arrived. The changes they made to work flows and installation of a robotic dispensary servicing two floors made all the difference.

The refit of Campbell’s Pharmacy Portrush meant there were now four points for dispensing, with separate pharmacy teams operating over three floors. This greatly limited the chances of viral spread. The new robotic dispensary proved invaluable throughout this time.

“We couldn’t have got through the Covid crisis in our old pharmacy layout. The robot allowed us to dispense safely, work with social distancing between members of each element of the team and deal with concerned patients” Vincent explains.

“It meant we were able to operate over three floors and maintain separate teams on each of these floors. This measure helped us to limit the possibility of any Covid spread within the team. We hoped these measures would save the pharmacy from having to close if any of the team tested positive for Covid.

20th anniversary

Covid has meant huge changes to pharmacy life – and the 20th anniversary celebration at Campbell Pharmacy was the latest casualty, resulting in a lower key commemoration than hoped.

“We celebrated 20 years of Campbell’s Pharmacy, Portrush on Friday 11th February, but with Covid there’s not a lot you can do,” Vincent admits.

“We decorated the shop, got commemorative pens and stickers to highlight the fact that we’ve been looking after our patients for 20 years. We had cake and buns, and patients brought us in homemade food and flowers.

“It was a day of celebration and we used social media to get the word out as well. We got the most amazing complimentary and heart-warming messages throughout the weekend from people on social media, which was lovely. Social media is something that I don’t really make enough use of, so it’s always heartening to see that there are people out there who get the message.”

Campbell’s Pharmacy started 20 years ago when Vincent and his wife Donna – both pharmacists – bought an existing pharmacy in Portrush.

“It was a small pharmacy with two pharmacy assistants and one pharmacist, so the plan was always to grow, grow, grow,” Vincent says.

“There are now usually myself and two other pharmacists and about another six ancillary staff daily as well, from dispensing technicians to pharmacy assistants, and we’ve got somebody training to be an accredited checking technician.

“The basic aim has always been to look after our patients as you would your own family – that’s what drives all the staff.

The power of staff

“I’ve been very lucky in the staff that have been here. They tend to arrive and stay and stick the pace. I’ve also been very lucky to have Donna to help me with ideas and plans for future development.

“Originally it was one small shop and then we extended into the premises next door. There was a two-storey flat upstairs, above the pharmacy and we had tried other business enterprises like an osteopath, other complementary practitioners and a hairdresser there, but we’ve now actually encompassed all three floors into the pharmacy in the most recent refit.”

Part of that growth is about embracing every new service that comes along, he says.

“At the minute we are a pilot site for a urinary tract infection scheme. We’re also taking part in the Pharmacy First scheme, so we’ve got winter ailments, we treat minor ailments, we do the smoking cessation scheme. We take part in the addiction service as well as weight management, blood pressure management, diabetic screening, vaccinations, both Covid and flu, and travel advice as well.

“We had been about to start a travel vaccination clinic just before Covid set in, so that was shelved with a view to picking it up and taking it out of mothballs whenever everything settles down and international travel begins again. That will be in place whenever all the Covid restrictions have been relaxed – we anticipate that later in the year.”

Quiet dispensary

The pharmacy also has a quiet dispensary where blister packs, weeklies and dailies can be dispensed without distractions from computers or phones.

“Anything that needs to be questioned, queried or researched can be done on one of the other floors but it means then that anything that requires extra supervision, like dispensing packs or daily prescriptions can all be done in a very distraction-free environment,” Vincent says.

“It’s all white, brightly lit and there’s lots of bench space for checking items and being able to see everything in front of you. I’ve tried to introduce systems that will reduce the chance of error at the end of the day to try and keep everyone safe.”

When Covid started, the pharmacy had just taken on a temporary driver to help out the staff who were doing the deliveries themselves. He is now a highly valued permanent staff member.

“Covid has been really busy, very challenging. The staff have been amazing. They have helped out without question any time they’ve been asked, everyone’s been really good and very selfless. We’ve tried to look after the staff as much as we can as well with small rewards as well by way of thanks because they’ve been so good,” Vincent says.

Frontline service

“We’ve stayed open throughout the covid crisis. We were completely frontline, we’ve had to triage patients for the local health centres. We’ve had to attend patients that haven’t been able to see their GPs for whatever reason.

“We’ve had to assist patients with photographing lumps, bumps, rashes and everything else and get those to various GP practices because they haven’t been able to be seen in person. We’ve had patients referred to us from health centres because they can’t be seen by their GPs.”

But he admits that it is becoming a struggle to maintain all the extra duties that pharmacies took on early in the pandemic – and since early December pharmacies haven’t been able to take on any new patients for monitored dosage systems.

“We’ve been carrying this burden in community pharmacy, we’ve been covering the cost of this ourselves. There hasn’t been a properly structured system put into place yet that would ensure that every patient is enrolled the same way into a commissioned service,” Vincent says.

“I know there are negotiations going on, at a much higher level than I’m privy to, between the board and Community Pharmacy NI to try and establish some form of a funded service for those patients that need a bit of extra help with their medicines.

“In the past we’ve been able to help them with a monitored dosage system and there’s been care packages put in place, but it’s just become overwhelming and community pharmacies can’t foot the bill for this any more, so I would hope that we get a funded service for that.”

“We’ve shown that the community pharmacy is open, that it’s accessible, we’re able to deliver essential services, we’re able to deliver complex services such as the Covid vaccinations which have been a tremendous success for community pharmacy. It’s all about looking after people and keeping them well,” he says.