We have been open throughout the Pandemic. We have always been busy. But now that other non-essential shops in our area are open too, our queues are steadily growing longer and longer.
Last week I arrived at work and had to deal with one customer after another after another. At first they were all asking for advice on minor ailments. I have to ask them questions about their symptoms and whether they have already tried any other medications or treatments. I have to check if they take any other regular prescription medication. I have to respond with information, recommendations on products they can try or signpost them to other health service providers. These conversations take time. The queue seems to be getting longer and longer while I give a customer attention.
Then further along the queue, were customers who had come to collect their medication. Only, when I checked, nobody had been able to dispense it yet because they have been so busy with other tasks. I have to apologise to the customer, give them an estimate as to how long it will take to get it ready, and ask them to return while serving the next customer. I asked one of the team to dispense the prescription for the customer who was going to return.
Twenty minutes later, I am still dealing with the queue of customers that keeps growing, and when I check, they have still not dispensed the customer’s prescription because the phone never stops ringing inside the dispensary.
The customer was angry his prescription was still not ready. I had to apologise to the other people queuing, and make them wait, while I go into the dispensary, gather the medications, label each item and put it in front of the Pharmacist who is intense discussions with a Doctor so that she can check it.
I have to return to the customer, and tell him it is nearly ready, but it has to be checked by the Pharmacist before it can be give out. He is ticked off. The queue behind him are also getting irritated.
Oh life in a Pharmacy! It is not for the faint hearted!
That time we dread is here: STOCKTAKE!
Why is it a fearsome thing. An external team come in. They take forever! We have to carry on with work, serving customers and dispensing prescriptions.
Suddenly it becomes very cosy with six people instead of three working in a small space. They have to ask us questions throughout the day. As closing time drawers to a close, often they have still not finished and we have to break away from our work to make sure that we the job is finished and we can lock up and go home before midnight.
Last week I watched the news on Friday morning which claimed that every adult in England could collect a box of lateral flow tests from locations such as Pharmacies.
Having left work last thing on Thursday night, I thought to myself, “Oh no, we are going to end up with a queue of people coming to ask for lateral flow test kits when we don’t have any. But to my surprise, when I turned up on Friday morning, there they were – a huge box of lateral flow test kits was waiting for us.
No sooner had they arrived than people started to pour in to ask for them.
Changes can be challenging. Within our pharmacy, we have had to make a lot of changes during the course of the past year. Some of them are great changes in many ways, others are harder to understand.
We received instructions to clean the counter area every hour and we have a rota to make sure it is done. That’s a good thing. We all see the need for that. But fitting it into a busy work day and remembering to do it has sometimes been a challenge.
Then there are changes our customers might not always see. Head Office ask us to do “things” – either completely new aspects of our work (which has nothing to do with the basic role of the pharmacy) or just doing things differently. It slows us down to incorporate all these changes. We see our main role as dispensing prescriptions and giving advice on minor ailments.
Sometimes that does not seem enough for the big bosses who I guess are looking at the figures and trying to make us stand out to win customers over from our competitors. So now, we can’t just be team of pharmacy assistants and a pharmacist, we have to be pushy sales assistants, technological wizards, social media gurus, influencers, sex life advisors,…and more. Sometimes I am afraid that after our customers stand there and listen to our pitch to try to get them to sign up for every service we offer and buy products they never heard of before (and don’t really need) – will they ever want to come back to our pharmacy again?
Life in a pharmacy can be intense. Customers do not always realize how much work we have to do, work that we need to concentrate on so that we do not make mistakes.
Sometimes we have a rush of customers all come in at the same time presenting us with prescriptions. We have to ask them to return in ten minutes (or if we have lots of prescriptions we may increase that waiting time accordingly).
Last week, a customer turned up with five pages of prescriptions with almost twenty items listed on them. Knowing we were already processing the prescriptions of several customers who were soon to return to the pharmacy to collect the medications on prescriptions they had handed in earlier, I explained to the customer that it would take time to gather all the stock, label them and have the pharmacist check them. I asked if they could return to collect the prescription in around half an hour.
I am not going to repeat what the customer said. Wow! Just wow! It’s been a long time since I heard such a vitriol of contempt and scorn.
Of course, you can be sure that Jacob Nyamake was polite as always!
The latest situation we seem to be facing in the Pharmacy? We have had a number of patients that just seem….well…”lost”. They talk to us about minor ailments and aches. But when we ask them questions, their symptoms are so confusing we have to refer them to the Pharmacist.
When the Pharmacist tries to make sense of what they are reporting to us, it seems most likely that their symptoms are brought on by stress. It has been a stressful year, so that is no surprise.
We were talking about it last week. So many of our patients seem to be neglected. They have not been able to have the occasional ten minute appointment with their GP over the past twelve months. They stumble into the Pharmacy looking clueless. They know they don’t feel right, but they have no idea what could be causing it.
Our role is now involving a lot more reassurance to our customers that the NHS cares about them and wants to help them. But wow, it is so time-consuming. It is really challenging to give half an hour to a customer that needs to talk when you have forty prescriptions to dispense before customers arrive to collect their medications.
We are trying to get that balance right, but it is challenging. We are all huge believers that sometimes, a little kindness can make a huge difference to the welfare of our customers.
I know that the Pandemic has been stressful, but we have seen some strange behaviour at times from customers. One of the daily challenges we have in Pharmacy is customers who come to collect their prescriptions or buy a box of Solpadine Max when the Pharmacist is absent on their lunch break.
Legally, we are not allowed to do certain tasks while the Pharmacist is not there to supervise our activities. We are not permitted to give out prescription medications or to sell Pharmacy only medications.
Our Pharmacists usually work for twelve hour shifts. They are allowed an hour’s lunch break. Most just go for a quick walk to the nearby supermarket, buy a sandwich or a microwave meal and then come back to the Pharmacy and eat their lunch in a corner.. Usually they are only absent for ten minutes. But while the have gone, we cannot give out prescription medications.
Some customers accept that and return later on. Others throw an absolute wobbly and start ranting about how ridiculous it is. One of the challenges in Pharmacy is that some customers don’t seem to accept that a Pharmacist who works twelves hours is allowed a break to stretch their legs and buy some lunch.
There is one customer who is so predictable it’s almost funny, except it’s not. Almost every Saturday morning he will call and ask for an emergency supply of some medication he has ran out of. The local surgeries are all closed at the weekend, so we cannot get a prescription from the Doctor. We request his regular medication every two months, but he comes up with some kind of anti-fungal cream that he has once a year or an inhaler that he has once a year and says he has to have it, he cannot wait until Monday.
Even though the Pharmacist will try to reason with him over the phone that it is not an urgent item, he will wander along about an hour later, insisting that he have this product and that it cannot wait until Monday.
But when he comes, he has his own style that makes him a unique man. He will sit in a chair talking to a family member of friend on his mobile phone and drinking from a can of beer. The Pharmacist waits for him to end his phone call so they can discuss the item with him, but this customer goes on and on talking. We keep popping out to serve other customers and trying to catch his eye, but he continues his call. Half an hour later he ends his call and then comes and bangs on the counter asking why we have kept him waiting for so long.
We were politely waiting for him to finish his phone-call. He starts banging his hands on the counter and telling other customers we have kept him waiting for hours. He’s been there for around half an hour maximum. He starts to tell everyone that we are the worst pharmacy he has ever been to (he has been coming to our pharmacy for around fifteen years!)
He has a discussion with the Pharmacist and it turns out that the medication (usually a cream or an inhaler) is not finished yet, he still has some, but he says the Doctor sometimes hesitant to prescribe it, so he figures the easiest way to get what he wants is to ask the Pharmacy for an emergency supply and then let us worry about chasing up a prescription. We explain that is not how the emergency request arrangement works.
Eventually, after a lot of debating, he will leave, and its usually then that we notice an empty beer can sitting on one of the chairs in the waiting area.
Most difficult customer of the year goes to….the lady who would not take no for an answer and decided to belittle every member of our team.
We had the most odd situation at work this week. A lady demanded we supply her with a covid vaccine. We explained that we are not administering covid vaccines. She looked around sixty years of age, so we assured her that her GP will contact her to invite her to attend a vaccination appointment.
Yet, she was not satisfied, she said she has seen pharmacies on the news administering the vaccine. We acknowledged that some pharmacies are doing exactly that, but we are not. She became furious, accusing us of trying to trick her.
Then she asked if we – our members of staff – have been vaccinated. I stayed quiet but one of the young girls nodded and told her that NHS front line workers have been offered the vaccine and that most of us have received it. That only added fuel to the fire. The lady started ranting and yelling that we had to arrange a covid vaccine for her.
We tried to calm her down, explaining we had no way of arranging an appointment for her, assuring her that she would be invited in time and reminding her that the best way to stay safe is to stay at home and be careful to wear a face mask and observe social distancing rules when out for essential reasons such as grocery shopping.
She stayed at the pharmacy for an hour distracting us from our work, demanding we arrange a covid vaccine for her and accusing us of deceiving her.
Last week I was running on adrenaline all week because work was so nuts and I realized something – I love ice-cream. It is like the best energy food.
There is a gelato bar not far from the pharmacy I work at. Everyday last week I went there for my take-away sugar rush to give myself the boost I needed to face the afternoon. Who would have thought it would be ice-cream that would help me keep my act together?
It is amazing how much damage locum pharmacists can do in a day. They come in and try to deal with the prescriptions themselves – not caring about all the systems we have in place to look after our customers. It’s a nightmare trying to resolve all the upsets.