I have two words for you:
How is it that if they are going to fail, it is most likely to be on a Monday morning? I really really hate turning up late for work on a Monday. It means the week starts on a low note – my manager is grumpy with me, my colleagues giving me sideways glances, customers somehow detecting the awkward atmosphere in the Pharmacy.
Private prescriptions are a pain in the neck! The vast majority of prescriptions we receive are NHS prescriptions and they are straightforward. Usually the instructions are straightforward, if customers pay, the price is standard – always £9.35 for each medication. They just cut down all the calculations and extra work.
Some private prescriptions are anything but straightforward! Often they are handwritten, and almost impossible to read. Sometimes we have to ring the prescriber to ask what their prescription says. I wish they could just use a computer to produce prescriptions.
Sometimes the private prescription is for an unusual medication, not available on the NHS. The cost of some medicines can be hundreds of pounds. The customer is always keen to know the price before we dispense their prescription, only – we only know the price after we have dispensed it. It is so frustrating when they change their mind after we have dispensed it. We then have to reverse the dispensing. Twice as much work, and pointless because the customer has decided to go and ask other pharmacies to do the same thing.
Whenever a customer appears with a private prescription, my heart sinks a little.
One of the services our pharmacy offers is managing the medication of some of our customers by assembling a dosette box.
It is a time consuming task. We have to carefully prepare the customers scheduled medications in a plastic tray, morning, lunch, dinner and bedtime medications. It requires lots of concentration. It is so easy to make a mistake with some of these tiny tablets.
It takes the pharmacist a lot of time and concentration to check they are correct. If the customer takes several medications that look the same, it is especially challenging.
But it is an important service, so we are proud to support our customers with the dosette medication box service. However, the one phone-call we dread is when after all the work that has gone into preparing the dosette box, a Doctor’s surgery calls us to tell us that there have been changes made to our customer’s medication.
So one of the scenarios that slows work down enormously at work is when a customer brings an item to the counter and you scan it through the till and the price registers as more than the customer is expecting.
We have a non-stop flow of work inside the dispensary. It is hard to explain the volume of work in the form of prescriptions to dispense, dosette boxes to compile, and a heap of administration tasks in connection with our patients and suppliers. The phone rings all day with patients asking questions about their medication.
So when a customer comes to the pharmacy with a mascara that scans as £8.99 and they say that the label said £6.99 my heart just sinks. The only way I can know is to leave the dispensary, trek across the shop floor, try to make sense of the labels which are often all mixed up, figure out which mascara the customer has, find the matching label and clarify the price the store is advertising the product as. If we have advertised it as the lower price, the manager’s will do a refund of the price difference and check the pricing, perhaps replacing the label if there is a mistake.
Only…there are some rules that make the task a nightmare. If I have scanned the product at £8.99 it is sitting there on the screen. If I leave the till to go and check the shop floor, I have to log out of the till, only I cannot do that until the transaction has been voided. Only I am not allowed to void transactions. Only a manager can. The manager’s are usually on the shop floor or upstairs in the office. I cannot leave the till to go and find the manager because it leaves the till vulnerable. So I have to wait for a passing member of staff and ask them to find the manager.
All this time the customer is looking at me as if I am hopeless….and I am thinking of all the work piling up in the dispensary. Eventually the manager comes along and voids the transaction. Then I go and try to figure out the labels for the mascaras. As far as I can see, the customer is right, our label says £6.99. Only I am not authorized to change the price of that the product scans as, only the manager can do that!
The manager has disappeared again. This time I am free to go and search for her. I have to ask the customer to wait again, while I check all parts of the shop floor and then run up to the office. I cannot find her anywhere. Eventually she reappears, apparently she was in the ladies.
The manager looks after the customer and corrects the label. I have just lost twenty minutes to one stinking mascara! It can be incredibly frustrating when this happens several times in a day.
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!
There was some good news reported this past week, but I could not resist featuring this report about Lucy Sparrow. I work in a Pharmacy, and I was amazed by her latest art exhibition.
She has put together an entire Pharmacy made of felt! Everything she has made looks so intricate.
Take a closer look at her work and the story behind her art:
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!