Driving home through the snow on Monday evening I didn't see many other cars on the road and and I wondered how many other drivers were also on their way home from work after 9 pm? The snow looked very pretty as it clung to the trees and fell onto the slushy roads. I played safe and drove steadily. My 15 minute journey took 25 minutes. I had no desire to end up in a ditch as round here the farmers do not clear them and they are currently full of freezing and dirty water.
By Monday evening I had worked four out of the last five weekdays, working three different shifts. One early bird shift, one siesta shift and two graveyard shifts. An early bird shift is he first shift of the day and means getting up at some God forsaken hour. The siesta shift covers the middle of the day and the graveyard shift is the evening shift. Some unfortunate pharmacist has to be there to over see the sales of Calpol, Benylin and Night Nurse in the winter and Piriton and Calpol in the summer. No two shifts are the same, although the routine is always the same. Standing for hours on end. Sometimes it is hot. Sometimes it is cold.
Last Friday as I worked the siesta shift I found myself thinking 'why are you doing this? you used to like it but you don't anymore.' I had started at 11am, by now it was well after 1pm, I had never stopped. I was tired and hungry and the prescriptions would not stop coming in. When was I going to get my lunch? Not until after 2.30 pm. Pharmacy has changed unbelievably, from the sedate and gentleman like profession that I was so proud to join over 30 years ago, into a money spinning supermarket side show.
When I qualified medicine labels were hand written. Most of the medicines, which keep the world ticking today, had not been discovered and nothing came in a blister pack. Hand written became typed on a type writer and now labels are computer generated, which is just as well as the clever computer has also been programmed with all possible drug interactions. Once I only needed to remember that aspirin and warfarin interacted. Now there are too many interactions to memorise. My generation of pharmacists were taught to formulate creams and ointments, triturate powders and compound suppositories. Skills which I have never used and we are no longer allowed to make up medicines from scratch. The patient has to wait a week for a contract manufacturer to produce them.
Today, I am expected to dispense a prescription at the same time as supervising the assistants on the counter and while also juggling the supply of the morning after pill, giving smoking cessation advice, handling telephone queries, repeat dispensing, minor ailments scheme supplies, medicines use reviews (MURs) and any other requests from customers for my advice. Oh, and in my spare time I need to keep up to date by participating in Continuing Professional Development (CPD). You may think that GPs do all of this too. Yes, but they only see one patient at a time by appointment. Every week there is something new to get to grips with. One of the most recent is Clamelle, an antibiotic for chlamydia, a STI (sexually transmitted infection). The diagnostic kit plus course of antibiotics cost a mere £45. Who is going to stump up for this when they can get it for, at most, a prescription charge of £7.10 from their GP or GUM clinic (genitourinary medicine). You think that I am writing a foreign language. Yes, so do I. Then, coming soon is Alli to help with weight loss. I am not sure who is pushing through all these new ideas. I think that it is a combination of the NHS, the government and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB). Now the RPSGB is thinking that its members may be stressed! It is a possibility.
My working life started in hospital pharmacy then I moved into the pharmaceutical industry before finding my way into retail pharmacy. On a personal level hospital pharmacy is he most rewarding whereas the pharmaceutical industry is intellectually the most stimulating. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have set the date by which I intend to hang up my mortar and pestle. In many ways it will be a sad day.