Gormley pharmacy has gone through a major transformation in the last 12 months both in the physical sense and as a front-line healthcare provider during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Brendan and Mark Gormley of Gormley’s Pharmacy in Limavady both agreed, the experience, although during a tumultuous time, has been a positive one.

Brendan who purchased the pharmacy in 1989 from Gerard O’Brien and subsequently refitted the pharmacy in 1990. After 30 years the pharmacy required modernisation throughout in order to be fit for purpose in an ever-changing healthcare environment. To this end, a dispensing robotics system was introduced to enhance efficiency in the dispensing process as well as stock control. This in turn has enabled pharmacists to have more time in a patient-facing role which makes patients feel safer and more cared for, especially in uncertain times like the pandemic.

Mark came on board 18 months ago just after passing his pre-registration exams. He commented on how pharmacy suited his attributes and despite the challenges of beginning his pharmacy journey, he was sure of his career path “I always had an interest in healthcare and caring for people. The combination of healthcare and the business aspect appealed to me”

It wasn’t always his plan to go into the family business immediately after qualifying but it has turned out to be a valuable learning experience. “Mark is getting an education, not just from me, but from other members of the team who can give him plenty of coaching. I’m pleased he has joined the team. He’s been an asset and this learning experience is going to be invaluable to him going forward.” says Brendan

“We work quite well together” Mark added, “It’s maybe even brought us closer together in some regards, we have differing personalities which has been a benefit in our working relationship.” Brendan also followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, Kevin Bowman of Dunmore, County Galway who has fond memories of visiting his pharmacy when he was a child. Admiring his relationship with his patients both young and old, as he was a chemist, optician and first port of call in a rural community when their doctor or vet was unavailable. This example set by his grandfather always struck a chord with Brendan in his interactions with patients. Being part of the community is a vital aspect of the pharmacy environment. Being recognised as the first point of contact for healthcare advice or signposting to other services is a vital component of our role within the community. This has been a valued aspect of our profession and we are driven by delivering the best possible outcomes for our patients.

In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, community pharmacies and their teams have shown tremendous resilience and adapted quite remarkably through this most challenging period of time. They continued to maintain supply of medications to their patients and are also available to discuss health issues face-to-face and provide reassurance when other health services were unavailable. In conjunction with the Community Development Health Network, we were able to call upon volunteers to operate a pandemic delivery service for shielding and vulnerable patients. “The pandemic has definitely highlighted our role in the community as frontline healthcare professionals” added Brendan.

Coronavirus brought challenges around the availability of medications due to the spike in demand and forced pharmacists and their teams to rethink how they could provide their healthcare services. The previous year’s refit allowed Gormley’s Pharmacy enough space to implement effective social distancing while they were able to carry out consultations via video-conferencing technology. Brendan said “Where the world identified problems, community pharmacies found solutions. It is something the sector is used to as it is constantly evolving to meet the needs of their communities.”

Traditionally, pharmacists are often perceived as simply dispensing medication as their core role which now includes compliance adherence and monitored dosage systems to support the elderly and vulnerable in the community as well as domiciliary care. “Sometimes the public are unaware of the more clinical services that pharmacists are able to provide. With our clinical training and our accessibility as your local pharmacist, we are well placed as clinicians in the community. Services such as smoking cessation, medicine use review, blood pressure and glucose monitoring as well as flu vaccinations” Mark said

Almost 14,000 flu vaccinations have been delivered to frontline Health and Social care workers by community pharmacy in the last 4-6 weeks which demonstrates how effective we can be when fully utilised in a clinical role. It also places the profession in a good position to provide the COVID-19 vaccine when it is eventually rolled out.

“Community pharmacy teams have played a vital role in public health from the very beginning of the pandemic. They stood up in the face of the pandemic to provide primary care, ensuring essential medicines were provided and delivered and access to healthcare was available to all within the community” 

“Our team adapted quickly understanding their role was to ensure the safe supply of medicines and advice to patients at all times so they could manage their conditions safely at home and keep further pressures away from our hospital as much as possible” 

Brendan added “Gormley pharmacy is very much a team effort, I must pay tribute to my pharmacy team who were unstinting in their hard work through this period- doing whatever was required including early mornings and late nights to look after their patients. I know we were not alone in this regard.”

In the throes of a second wave, the winter months will see a further expansion of much needed community services such Pharmacy First service and the Emergency Supply service which will help alleviate pressures in other areas of healthcare especially GP Practices .The continued accessibility of community pharmacy services is vital in the protection of the health and wellbeing of community this winter.

Gormley’s pharmacy is also an accredited Health Plus Pharmacy highlighting its role in health promotion. Public Health issues such as mental health and obesity as well as targeting areas of health inequalities are regularly highlighted within community pharmacy.

This can be demonstrated by our involvement in partnership projects with BCPP (Building Community Pharmacy Partnerships) and various community groups in the locality.

Both Brendan and Mark believe that although the COVID-19 pandemic may have created a new environment for healthcare, community pharmacy will still have a lot to offer to future generations.