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.
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.
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 a customer who comes in every eight weeks to pick up his prescription. He always does/says the same thing. No amount of effort to be nice and polite changes his behaviour.
For a start, he scowls. Woe-be-tide you if you ask how he is. His reply would be a look that could kill!
When you hand him his bag of medication, he starts to mutter how stupid the pharmacy staff are and that they always make mistakes. Then he tears open the paper bag and starts examining the contents. Every time he does that, there are no mistakes, there is nothing missing, he has received exactly what the Doctor prescribed, which is exactly what he is expecting.
But can he say thank you? No way man! He continues to grumble. Now he wants a new bag because he has just ripped the other one up. He keeps saying how terrible this pharmacy is and how we always make mistakes – even though for the past two years I have seen him check his bag of medication and never find a single mistake.
If he really thinks we are so hopeless, I sometimes wonder why he does not go to another pharmacy? But no, he seems to prefer to come to us and tell us how stupid we are instead.
What can we say? “Have a nice week Sir.”
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.
So there are these young guys who come wandering into the pharmacy – most of them somewhere between the ages of 13-17. They come in and usually they ask for one particular product. Now we know that it a substance subject to misuse.
So we ask them about the medicine they are asking to buy – Who is it for? What are their symptoms? How long have they had those symptoms for? What have they already tried to treat those symptoms? Do they take any other regular medication on prescription?
The answers they give us normally tell us that the product they are asking for us inappropriate for them – that besides their young age.
I take it seriously man. They are my brothers and they are playing substances they don’t understand, abusing medicines. I try to tell them that they should stay clear of this kind of this kind of trouble, but they don’t want to know. They want their fix.
They lie and they try to be clever so we will sell it to them. But we know them. We recognise their faces. We say no because we care. We are not going to help them to harm their own health. I know they leave annoyed that they could not get what they wanted – and it’s so bad that we actually have to hide it so that we don’t get aggression from them when we refuse the sale. But it is sad man. It’s such a crazy situation to have to deal with.
I was on my way to work the other day, whistling to keep my spirits up, when…
…five police cars with their blue lights flashing and sirens blaring went speeding through the crossroads. Then two ambulances followed about half a minute behind. Then came another three police cars.
It felt like we were downtown New York. Was there a bank being robbed? Was there some horrendous pile-up on the South Circular? Was it a terrorist act?
I have no idea – but it kind of shook me. Something was going on nearby. I have no idea what it was, maybe I never will, but there must have been something terrible happening.
Moments later, I arrived at work with my pulse still racing, and have to pretend that there is nothing wrong in the world, and that I am all ready to be enthusiastic and energetic about dispensing blood pressure tablets and anti-depressants. This is a sick world, and I know because of the bucket loads of drugs we have to hand out to help people funtcion.