My yearning to be a pharmacist started in early childhood. My father is a pharmacist and my brothers and I used to help pack throat sweets in the front room at home. These were similar to Fisherman’s Friend lozenges. We took them from a mammoth crate of thousands, and put them into cartons of 12 tablets, then applied a label. We packed hundreds of boxes each Sunday.
During the Hong Kong influenza epidemic of 1969-70 I started to help out in my father’s shop. The queues for medicines and prescriptions stretched through the shop on both sides and extended outside the door. I must have been 12 years old, taking in prescriptions and helping to sell cough and cold remedies. I progressed to working every weekend.
I applied for college, but my “A”-level results were insufficient, so I enrolled at Sunderland Polytechnic, where I took a oneyear conversion course and passed with distinction. I was accepted for a place at the school of pharmacy in Liverpool, where my father had studied. I enjoyed my time there, but took slightly longer than three years to graduate. However, my research work in my final year was featured at the British Pharmaceutical Conference that year and I gave a presentation in Brighton to 50 people.
I was lucky enough to gain wide-ranging work experience, spending summer vacations at Christie Hospital and Withington Hospital in Manchester and at IC! in Macclesfield. My preregistration year was spent in Warrington, enabling me to move around Cheshire, experiencing many different facets of pharmacy.
Once qualified, I moved to London and began work as a basic grade pharmacist at Central Middlesex Hospital. I stayed two years and gained my independence as a single girl in London. From there I moved to City and Hackney and another rotational basic grade job, which provided me with a more structured and intensive insight into hospital pharmacy.
A novel position was advertised back at Central Middlesex, involving a 50-50 split between a clinical post and support for a new computer system being installed in pharmacy. I saw this as the way forward for pharmacy. I took the post, which opened up a variety of career possibilities in two distinct and fastgrowing areas. The computer system began to take over the clinical part of the post and, after 18 months, little time was left for clinical aspects of the work, apart from daily ward visits.
When Central Middlesex Hospital was amalgamated with several other hospitals in north west London the computer system was extended to all other sites. This was my responsibility: suddenly, I had five sites to manage. Procurement and computer system management were intertwined, because each new product that needed to be sourced for patients had to be set up on the computer system to allow the procurement process to flow.
I was secretary of the West London Consortium for many years. In 1992, I was approached to assist with procurement and computer support at Barnet and Edgware hospitals. This meant taking responsibility for two more sites, making seven in all. The role was a “Judie-share” as opposed to a job share, as my knowledge was being used by many different organisations across all sites. I introduced electronic trading and a local electronic contract management system to all sites. For most of this time I was working school hours, 9.30am to 3pm, and it was busy.
In 2000 I was approached by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (NHS PASA) to help with pharmacy electronic trading. I was seconded to NHS PASA, but continued to work a few hours in the NHS at St Charles’ Hospital. This has provided me with an understanding of the national strategic position of pharmacy business, while retaining a view from the NHS coal-face. I am now e-business pharmacist for NHS PASA for 27 hours per week, helping hospital pharmacists make best use of technology. This includes robotic dispensing, electronic trading and e-enablement and electronic health records. I also man the computer system at St Charles’ Hospital for five hours a week.
The local responsibility gives an insight into the problems faced by the NHS. I believe that all civil servants working at the Department of Health should be seconded on one day a week to work in their local NHS. This would provide an additional resource for the NHS and an insight of working within the organisation that they advise. This, of course, is a personal view but one that I believe could add great value.
Clinical knowledge is vital in procurement, to ensure that clinical equivalence is applied appropriately. I am a member of a group of pharmacists that meets monthly for continuing professional development and discussions on clinical topics. In 2007, I wis elected to serve on the UK Council for Health Informatics (UKCHIP) — a position of influence. I have recently been involved in an application for an award in “Central e-Government excellence: Procurement” for work on e-catalogues for hospital pharmacy contracts at NHS PASA. This work won an award in January 2008.
I hope that I have made a difference during my working life, influencing the direction of secondary care pharmaceutical procurement with the aid of technology. I have a few more years to build on this and improve the commercial understanding of the health economy.
NHS and DoH staff are often accused of being naive about the commercial pressures of working in the real world. e-Commerce and the rollout of the e-enablement strategy for the NHS should provide a huge step forward in this area — but only time will tell.