Like riding a bike – only a faster one with a few more gears!

McKesson UK head of services, Anna Ruthven, explains how COVID-19 sent her ‘back to the floor’ on the frontline of LloydsPharmacy.

Six months ago, if anyone had suggested to Anna Ruthven that she’d be working in a local pharmacy in Spring 2020 dressed in a visor and advising patients not to get too close, she’d have laughed, but following an urgent call for pharmacists to work on the frontline, that’s exactly what she’s doing.

Anna qualified as a pharmacist in 2000 and started her career as a locum in hospital pharmacy primarily focussed on elderly care. From there, she moved to running the first LloydsPharmacy care home hub in Lye near Dudley and then took on a Central Operations role in head office.

She says: “When a new healthcare services team was set up six years ago I was ready for a change. The initial task was to be the accountable lead on our first contract win and to look after Commissioned Services – but the role soon developed into managing all services as this part of our business grew.

“We grew services significantly in my first year as Head of Services and had lots of new things in the pipeline, but due to COVID-19 many of them are on hold. Of course, not all our services have stopped, we still do New Medicines Services, supervised/needle exchange, EHC and some vaccinations for NHS frontline staff returning to work, but on the whole the impact has been significant on my department.”

As part of its issues’ management of the pandemic, McKesson UK looked at how some of its people could be redeployed on the frontline including in AAH warehouses and in LloydsPharmacy branches. Pharmacists’ skills were in very high demand due to absence in the LloydsPharmacy network because of colleagues that were being shielded or self-isolating.

Anna continues: “As a pharmacist, I knew my skills were really needed in community pharmacy, but I’d never really worked in one before apart from odd weekends quite a few years ago. I really wanted to help, but I was very nervous.

“My first day in LloydsPharmacy Lower Hillmorton Road, Rugby was made so much better than I expected by the amazing team there. There was a locum pharmacist and a lovely dispenser called Rebecca who was really very, very kind to me.  I started by checking the easier prescriptions and took baby steps.

“Although I was worried about new drugs, I learnt that there is just so much core work that is fundamentally pharmacy and it doesn’t change. I had to take a bit longer and if I didn’t know a medicine, I looked it up. It was important to show humility and I asked a lot of questions! The difficult part was the change in processes, I’d never worked with EPS and I didn’t know where to file prescriptions – things like that.

“It’s like riding a bike – although it’s a better, faster bike with maybe a few more gears!

“My confidence has grown and now, in week two, I feel like part of the team. My day is split between primarily working in the pharmacy and doing my ‘day job’ when I get back home in the evenings.

“Nearly all of the patients are lovely and learning to live with social distancing. We’re a small pharmacy so there’s little room inside.  They are happy queueing (in a rather disorderly manner) – though we’ve been lucky with the weather, I don’t think they’d be as tolerant in the rain. But if things go wrong, their prescription isn’t ready; the GP hasn’t been in touch when they should; the quantity is wrong, they get frustrated and upset. I know that they want to avoid coming out of the house again and as a result the team here are going above and beyond with sorting queries and making extra deliveries.

“I have to ask patients to move away a lot, many of them get too close. The problem is some of the elderly can’t hear unless they get very near to you.  Some of them want a chat as it’s the only opportunity they have but we are so busy and don’t always have the time for that.  I’m grateful for the screen and visors we are provided with.

“The phone doesn’t stop ringing with patients asking if scripts are ready, whether something is in stock.

“The pharmacy team are pleased to have extra help. They were wary at first about having someone from ‘head office’ watching them, but I have been able to escalate any issues they have as I know a lot of people – I’m a useful colleague to have!

“The biggest surprise to me has been how much I’ve enjoyed it and how familiar it has quickly become. I have decided to do a day every month or so with them when all this is over.  It’s given me a lot of insight that I will take back to my normal role, not least what it means when I ask a pharmacy to do 300 flu jabs on top of their normal workload!

“Above all, I’ve made new friends – and there’s not many people that can say they’ve met new people during the pandemic.”