Ask any pharmacist what the busiest month of the year is and they will say December.  My  community pharmacy has been around for 225 years so is a core part of the local community and we try to do our bit to make things just a little less stressful for patients at this time of year. 

This is traditionally the time when people are trying to get organised, and this includes sorting out their repeat prescriptions. Inevitably, this means more people coming in, and we are working hard to sort things out for them with the minimum of fuss or delay. We have strong, long-term relationships with many of our patients, and that allows us to continue providing high quality care, supplying the medicines and advice they need to keep them on their feet – without waiting to see their GP.

In winter we see a good number of patients coming back for their regular flu vaccination. It has been an important year for community pharmacy as this is the first time we have had a national scheme commissioned to deliver NHS flu vaccinations in pharmacy. This service is very popular with my patients who appreciate the convenience of not having to book an appointment and the ease of location.

But even with the best of planning, there will always be some patients who aren’t as well prepared. For those who’ve forgotten to sort out their medication it’s often a relief to learn that, like most pharmacies, we are open on Boxing Day and can issue an emergency supply to keep them going until their GP surgery re-opens.

Winter can be hard on the most vulnerable in our community. One of my regular patients was discharged recently from hospital and is now far less mobile. We operate in a rural area and he lives several miles away from both my shop and his GP. By combining our detailed knowledge of the patient with access to an electronic prescription and home delivery service, we were able to sort out his medication over the phone and supply what he needed right to the doorstep.

We also ran through a full Medicines Use Review ‘MUR’ with him. This has ensured he has what he needs – and only what he needs – by disposing of previous prescriptions and providing guidance on how best to use his medicines. 

I’m very proud of the service my team provides to the community. But I feel we could be doing even more.

One of my biggest frustrations is having to send patients to their GP for something I could have dealt with, there and then.

Just last week I had a mum come and see me with her son who was suffering from an obvious case of impetigo; I had everything I needed to put things right but I had no choice but to refer them back to their doctor (because they needed a prescription for the medication).

The end result? They wait to see their GP, he gives them a prescription and they come back to me to collect what I would have given them anyway. That’s wasted my time and the GPs, not to mention the unnecessary delay and worry for the patient.

A minor ailment such as this should be able to be dealt with by a pharmacist.

GPs are under immense pressure at this time of year and it’s so important we use their time and resources efficiently. There are pharmacists across the country willing to do more to support the work of their local GP through minor ailment and vaccination services. But, given the limitations placed on us, it can sometimes feel as if we have one hand tied behind our back.

So while it may be a very busy time for us pharmacists, I can’t help but think I’d like to be just a bit busier still…

Mike Hewitson runs Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset and is a Board Member of Pharmacy Voice.