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“Things will keep being unpredictable, but our patients will still need us no matter what.”

Jim Hutchins is Relief Manager at Well Pharmacy and also Pharmacist Support Charity Ambassador. In July 2020 he told us how he was coping with the challenges and changes that the covid-19 pandemic has brought, and gave us some tips on how to manage wellbeing. We caught up with Jim to see how things are going a few months down the line. 

We’re now in the midst of a second wave of covid-19. Are you experiencing any challenges that you didn’t have in the Spring? 

The biggest challenge we’ve faced coming into the second wave of Covid-19 have been the cutbacks caused by the negative business effects of Covid-19 and all the new restrictions. Many pharmacies are running with less staff, less stock and lots of new processes. Several pharmacy chains have announced closures and it’s clear that staff worry about their own futures as the situation develops.

How are you alleviating these challenges?

We are throwing ourselves into the new systems, trusting that we can do more with less. We’ve also become used to more flexibility from staff, and branches have been helping each other out with new faces often visiting from other branches.

In your last article, you described one of your biggest challenges as being lack of understanding from patients; has this changed? 

With few (and sometimes dramatic!) exceptions, patients have been absolutely wonderful in engaging with the new ways of doing things. Most people queue without complaint, regardless of the weather (many wait for a text so they don’t queue unnecessarily), virtually everyone remembers their mask and they seem to understand that there will be more delays than there used to be. To maintain good patient relationships, we continue to apologise though and, since the cakes and biscuits keep coming, we must be doing something right.

What has been the most unique challenge you’ve faced this year and how did you overcome it?

Interestingly, as vulnerable people started to return to the pharmacy, it was very clear that there was an opportunity to educate them on their own safety habits. I (and my teams) took every opportunity to discuss the patient’s safety (although, of course, I also had the safety of my staff and other patients to take into account too). Very many seemed to equate being ‘exempt’ with being ‘safe’. For example, I spoke to a young man who said he was exempt due to severe asthma. I simply asked him “then you really wouldn’t want to catch Covid, would you?”. I could see him think about it and he now wears a mask for the short period he’s in the shop. People without a mask are actually quite rare in that branch and it’s good to see our frail elderly patients all wearing masks or visors. Of course, when we had one lady throw her hands into the air exclaiming that she had to run back to the car for her lanyard . . . The assistant could only ask “Why? It won’t protect you from anything!”

What has been your biggest learning curve this year? 
The biggest lesson this year is to take things as they come. Things will keep being unpredictable, but our patients will still need us no matter what.

As a relief manager, what steps have you taken to keep motivation and morale up in your pharmacy branches?

With our daily pharmacy lives being so pressured and yet so uncertain, it becomes even more important to take mental breaks and think about things totally unconnected with pharmacy. In one branch we’ve made an art of it and return whenever we can to our discussion about the coffee shop we intend to open when we win millions on the lottery. I enrol potential coffee shop staff as I travel around other branches. We’ve already discussed the menu, the décor, job roles and remuneration. Of course, it won’t need to be profitable because we’ll all be millionaires from our lottery win!

In the lead up to Christmas, we’re running a 12 Days of Pharmacy Thanks campaign to recognise all the positives that have happened amongst the uncertainties and chaos of this year. Please tell us who you would like to say ‘thank you’ to and why…

In the run up to Christmas I would like to say a huge thank you to the teams I’ve worked with. They’ve unfailingly made my job, each other’s jobs and the patients lives better. I would like to say a personal thank you to the hugely talented & experienced non-pharmacist branch managers I’ve worked with. I could not have been the pharmacist I am without you. Happy Christmas.

If you have a Story you’d like to share with your fellow colleagues and students on this Wardley Wellbeing Hub, please get in touch! 

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