When Afua Thompson and her business manager husband took over a community pharmacy two decades ago, it had been run by an older couple who had been dispensing just 100 items per month. With 20 years of hard work, Thompson has transformed the business in Sutton to a vital community hub that “makes every contact count” for her patients, says her nominator.
Vital to the pharmacy’s success has been the range of services it now offers, including smoking cessation, hypertension case-finding and flu vaccination. Most notable is their anticoagulation service, which under Thompson’s careful stewardship has grown from 50 to 400 patients.
While other local providers of anticoagulation monitoring have fallen by the wayside, she has continued to provide a patient-centred approach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, for both those who can attend the pharmacy and those who are monitored at home.
“Hospitals were thinking of ways they could move patients into the community [for anticoagulation monitoring] and the local pharmaceutical committee approached me and asked if I could do this,” she says modestly, thinking back to when she first took on the service six years ago. Within just three months of starting, her patients began to get more stable results.
“We are the only pharmacy doing domiciliary and ambulatory monitoring and we have taken over from two GP practices in the area and other pharmacies who were struggling,” she explains. It is Thompson’s personal touch that makes a difference, carefully checking the results of every single patient herself and working out how to support them.
She also takes on a safeguarding role for some patients who may be vulnerable, which came to the fore during COVID-19, when people were shielding and having little contact with anyone else. “If you get a result that’s below a certain figure, I start to wonder what’s going on and what could I do to help them, as well as making them comfortable to want to speak to you if there’s any problems.”
Aside from sheer hard work, the success of the service has been down to the relationships formed with others who are part of the multidisciplinary team, including the haematology consultant, anticoagulation nurse, district nurse and GP. “We were here right through COVID, visiting our patients; we didn’t miss a single appointment,” she says.
The pharmacy has transformed from the “dark and dingy” premises, with shelves full of expired products, in which Thompson and her husband saw so much potential all those years ago. “At the start, we would be lucky if we got ten patients coming in a day,” she says. Now, it’s constantly busy, with parents seeking advice for poorly children, others wanting medicines dispensed, or a flu vaccine, sent on the recommendation of someone so pleased with the service they received. “If someone has a fall outside, they come to us. We’re very community-oriented.”
Thompson is incredibly proud of her small team of pharmacy staff who care deeply about what they do, and are doing about twice as much work as they were a few years ago for the same money. It has meant constant adaptation and the loss of schemes, such as the minor ailment scheme, which are missed by their local community.
Yet she is hopeful and has more ideas for new ways she can help her patients, having just submitted her final portfolio for her independent prescribing qualification. One day she hopes to use these skills in her hypertension service. “I sometimes think I’m crazy but when I do something I like to give my all. I was up all last night and didn’t sleep because I wanted to make sure my portfolio is done.”
As her nominator said, Thompson is “the example of what can be achieved if you commit to a role”. The things that keep her going are “my passion for pharmacy and my passion for my family”.
“I want them to see that if you work hard it is rewarded.”
“Her service to the community is of great importance and her commitment is responsible for her success”
“Inspiring. There are very few female proprietors, and even fewer of African heritage”
“She has successfully supported her patients and inspired others”
Meet the rest of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Women to Watch 2022 here