Cheryl Way was elected as the new chair of the Welsh Pharmacy Board at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) on 22 June 2021, but she brings a wealth of experience from a 40-year career in pharmacy.
“I’ve been around a long time,” she explains. “I started off working in a community pharmacy in my university holidays where we hand-wrote labels, and we ordered stuff over the phone using code: Delta Foxtrot Charlie, that sort of thing.”
Of course, technology in pharmacy has moved on since then and Way has a national role in developing it as pharmacy and medicines management lead at Digital Health and Care Wales. In her role, she has been involved in looking at ways to improve the information flow around the health service, including a new national discharge medicines information system and updating information on adverse reactions to cancer medicines.
“I’m keen on being at the level where I can actually integrate everything across the country,” she says.
The Pharmaceutical Journal caught up with Way at an important time: the Welsh government has recently committed to a £100m pandemic recovery fund, involving community pharmacy, and the country continues to work towards each community pharmacy having an independent prescriber by 2030. Indeed, recent data show that pharmacist independent prescribers in Wales have already delivered more than 16,000 consultations since 2016.
However, there can be too much pressure on pharmacists to do more, and sometimes it is time to say no, says Way.
Could you tell us a bit about your role with Digital Health and Care Wales?
I work across a range of IT platforms. All the ones that I’m involved with have something to do with pharmacy and/or medicines management. Today, I’m focusing on getting ready for some third-year pharmacy students, who are joining us for the summer to help us transcribe allergy information from our old cancer information system into the adverse reactions record in the Welsh Clinical Portal, which will be supporting cancer services going forward.
What would you like to see happen with the COVID-19 recovery plan in Wales?
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) had a lot of input into the report ‘Pharmacy: delivering a healthier Wales‘, which was led by the Welsh Pharmaceutical Committee, who advise the minister [for health and social services in Wales]. So, we’ve got a plan up to 2030 and we’re working on delivering that. I’m on the ‘Pharmacy: delivering a healthier Wales’ delivery board, which has representation from across Wales.
We’re looking at whether there are other ways we can give pharmacists access to more information to support them with clinical roles, such as being able to request [information on] test results from a community pharmacy. Obviously, the hospital services are pretty clinical, as are the ones done in primary care, so I think it’s largely developing the more clinically-oriented services through community pharmacies.
In Wales, the aim is for each community pharmacy to have an independent prescriber by 2030. What needs to be done to make that happen?
We started the pilot by giving pharmacists access to information from the Welsh GP record. We started off with 13 pilot sites and we’ve already got more than 40 sites that want it. The General Practitioners’ Committee for Wales, which represents all NHS GPs in the nation, have agreed that we can share it more widely, with appropriate governance in place.
So we can roll it out as we get independent prescribers trained and health boards commissioning services through them. They have to sort out the funding, really. If pharmacists are going to be prescribing, they need budgets to support that.
And the other thing that we’re picking up is the support for those people once they’ve been trained as a prescriber. I think the things we’ve done in the RPS, with the education team, and the transition programmes that we use in NHS 111 and in GP practice to support Welsh pharmacists moving into careers in these sectors are the types of things that we can usefully broaden out.
The new pharmacy foundation training year has just begun. Do you think Wales was ready for that change?
I think we’ve been ahead of the game with cross-sector training for our preregistration trainees. We’ve certainly been doing that for a few years and that’s been spreading. The concern that I’m hearing at the moment is just the amount of clinical content we’re going to need within that foundation training going forward and whether there’s actually enough capacity yet. We’re all up for it, but I think we still have to do some work to do.
What needs to be done to support pharmacists, post-COVID and in general, to protect their wellbeing?
The resources that Pharmacist Support provides are important. There is also access to health and wellbeing services for pharmacists that the Welsh government originally had for doctors, and now other health professionals have got that support.
We try to promote all the support we can offer via the RPS website and we have run some sessions with Pharmacist Support. I think maybe we could do more on promoting what support is available, so that people know.
I think, in Wales, generally, we do understand the important role that pharmacists have and the government does try to protect them: they were on the front foot with trying to provide PPE and allowing us access to some of these services. And the RPS has always worked with them. It’s just a matter of people who need the support services knowing how they can access them, so anything we can do to help that is good.
What do you think can be done to ensure that the principles of the RPS’s pharmacy workforce inclusion and wellbeing pledge are incorporated into workplace culture?
The chief pharmacists of local health boards in Wales have signed up to it. They are responsible for all of the pharmacy provision in the health boards, including the contracts they have with the contractors. So I think that’s a good start.
Obviously, I signed up to it and it made me reflect on myself: when I was thinking about ensuring people have breaks, I thought “Actually, I’m going to let myself have a break!”
I’ve had a few colleagues that I’ve thought have become very overwhelmed, particularly with some of the COVID-19 work that we’ve undertaken, and I said to them: “For goodness sake, give yourself a break!” It is a challenge; we find that there are places where pharmacists are working long days and not getting breaks, who have difficulty taking holidays. That’s counterproductive in the end, isn’t it?
When we need to, we give ourselves a good talking to about not burning out. We’ll say: “Just have the weekend off, don’t go on Facebook at 10 o’clock on Saturday night and scroll through a stream of abuse because someone can’t access some system.” It’s really not worth it!
What is your closing message to readers?
The message we’d like to get to pharmacists in Wales is: talk to us. If you want us to be doing things that help you, we need to know about it. It is hard at the moment when we’re working remotely and not having face-to-face meetings to actually know what the problems are or what you need support with. So get in touch with us.
We want to be able to represent everybody: all of our pharmacists and their teams across Wales. Join us, talk to us, let us know what’s going on and what you want us to be doing for you.