How a community pharmacy owner became the face of a media campaign

As a community pharmacist, Roger Humbles is aware of the increased levels of illness, deaths and pressure on the NHS in winter. Here, he talks about publicity and running his own pharmacy.

Roger Humbles, community pharmacist and owner of Fourway Pharmacy

Roger Humbles is a community pharmacist, owner of Fourway Pharmacy and fronted the recent NHS ‘Stay well this winter’ campaign to encourage people to visit their local pharmacy.

How did you decide that you wanted to be a pharmacist?

In the beginning I didn’t know anything about pharmacy. A week of school organised work experience sparked my interest in veterinary medicine originally, but I didn’t quite get the grades and had to seek an alternative quickly. My research revealed pharmacy to be a degree course, which was a surprise, and it to involve chemistry and biology, which I enjoyed. The father of my girlfriend at the time was a pharmacist, and I remember him trying to put me off — so I feel very lucky that I’ve managed to find my niche after this unpromising start!

As prescribing advisor for a health authority promoting cost effective prescribing to GPs using industry sales techniques — I was an ‘anti-rep’

How did your career as a community pharmacist come about?

I studied for my pharmacy degree at Aston, took my preregistration training at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, north west London, and then moved into community pharmacy, taking a succession of managerial jobs until I was aged 30 years, when I took a year off to do a diploma in modern jazz at the Guildhall School of Music.

I then took a manager’s job with The National Co-operative Chemists (now Co-operative Pharmacy) at one of its larger branches and completed a management course. This was followed by two part-time jobs — pharmacy facilitator for a health authority and a prescribing advisor for a health authority-funded project called Impact, which promoted cost effective prescribing to GPs using industry sales techniques. I was an ‘anti-rep’.

I also ran a minor ailment clinic pilot in a GP surgery during that time. I bought Fourway Pharmacy in 1999, and have worked as the main pharmacist, while also managing the business ever since.

What does a typical day in your pharmacy involve?

I have a two-minute cycle to work, and start the day with the counter staff discussing the day’s agenda. In the dispensary, the technician and preregistration pharmacist will prepare any scripts from the previous day and electronic transfer prescription scripts already in the inbox and for any walk-ins.

I make sure that all queries are dealt with, check off the prepared scripts and help with dispensing. The counter is fairly busy, and of course many patients ask to see the pharmacist, so I am continually in and out of the dispensary. When dispensary pressure allows, I try to spend time meeting and greeting patients and customers. I also provide medicines use reviews (MURs) and the new medicines service, NHS health checks, emergency hormonal contraception, passport photos and, in the autumn, a lot of flu vaccinations.

What do you find most challenging as a community pharmacist and business owner?

Even before the community pharmacy cuts on 1 December 2016, there was a huge increase in workload for less return, which has increased pressures in the dispensary, with no funding to increase staffing levels. I am very worried about how community pharmacy will cope when the first NHS payment under the new settlement is made in March 2017.

Unfortunately, this also coincides with a 60% rent and rates increase for Fourway Pharmacy. Of course, there are also the demands and challenges associated with service delivery and the associated paperwork for dispensing, MURs, the new medicines service, flu jabs, emergency hormonal contraception, counselling and supervising the preregistration pharmacist.

As pharmacists are very aware of the increased levels of illness, deaths and pressure on the NHS in winter

How did you get involved in the campaign to ease pressures in the NHS?

I think it was a case of right place, right time! We have been asked a few times to be the generic backdrop to a pharmacy news story, and quite a few media people live locally, so know me well. Perhaps it was because of this that NHS England contacted me to see if I was interested in auditioning for the Stay Well This Winter campaign in 2015-2016. They used photos from the same shoot this year.

I was pleased to be involved because as pharmacists we are very aware of the increased levels of illness, deaths and pressure on the NHS in winter. There are around 25,000 extra deaths each year in winter — mainly associated with coronary heart disease, respiratory disease and dementia. Small measures, such as eating well, staying warm, keeping active and having the flu vaccination, make a difference.

Have you ever done any other work in national campaigns for the media?

I hadn’t done any media work for the NHS before last year’s winter campaign, but did play the pharmacist in a commercial TV campaign for a hayfever nasal spray in 2015. I was shocked at the audition — to have to really act rather than just counsel a ’patient’ as I would in the real world, but on camera. I had never acted before but the director managed to get a good performance out of me — the advert was also rerun during the 2016 hayfever season. I received no fee for the work (in accordance with MHRA rules), but it was a fascinating experience and I really enjoyed it once I managed to shed my natural inhibitions.

It has certainly been a talking point over the last couple of years both in and out of the pharmacy as nearly everyone seemed to have seen it, although ironically it has never popped up when I’ve watched TV myself.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2017, Vol 298, No 7899;298(7899):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20202310

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