Award Winners Interviews
A career of two halves
ICP’s Independent Pharmacist of the Year Award winner Lindsey Fairbrother talks about her career in pharmacy and how independents are driving the change that the sector needs to see...
“I’ve had a life of two halves,” says Lindsey Fairbrother, describing her career in community pharmacy to date. After completing her pre-reg in 1984, Lindsey spent the first half of her working life in what she calls the “corporate world” of pharmacy, working her way up the ladder in what was then Co-op Pharmacy to become commercial director before setting out on her own and opening Good Life Pharmacy in Hatton, Derbyshire, almost 12 years ago.
Since then, Lindsey has qualified as an independent prescriber (IP) and gained a pharmacy veterinary diploma. She has introduced income-generating services such as a travel clinic to her business, and promoted community pharmacy through her work on her local pharmaceutical committee and as a primary care network (PCN) lead – not to mention heading up her local covid vaccination initiative.
Motivation to train
Driven by an understanding of the benefits that upskilling brings – both to herself and her patients – Lindsey qualified as an IP in 2016.
“I’ve always felt that community pharmacists can do so much more, and this seemed like an obvious route to do that”, she says.
“I put myself in a GP practice for 14 months on my day off to make sure I was confident with what I was doing, but ultimately I wanted to use the qualification for the benefit of my own patients in the pharmacy, and I know a lot of pharmacists who feel the same.”
Becoming an IP has enabled Lindsey to offer private prescription services, which – pre-Covid at least – helped grow the pharmacy’s annual income impressively. However, she predicts that a combination of lack of funding, and NHS England’s push for all future pharmacy students to qualify as IPs as part of their degree, could ultimately mean everyone has a qualification that is under-utilised.
“How will we get to use it if everyone is an IP but there’s no funding for us to prescribe?” she says.
“Even now I’d love to be able to use my IP more in minor ailments work and NMS, but I can’t because there’s no funding. All I can use it for is a travel clinic and yellow fever service, and I love all that, but it’s highly frustrating that there’s no proper vehicle for it – especially as I’m sure GPs would support it too because they are so busy.”
Lindsey and her 10 part-time staff – who include an apprentice technician, a pre-reg and two qualified dispensers – also provide ENT consultations, UTI and skin treatment, EHC, supervised consumption, and flu vaccinations.
Although Covid-19 has put most of these activities on hold, Lindsey says being an IP gives customers added confidence in her skills.
“Certainly pre-Covid, when customers came into the pharmacy, they’d ask for Dr Lindsey,” she says, “which is great because it means they recognise I have a similar ability to their GP and know what I’m talking about, although it’s sad that more people still don’t think that way about pharmacists in general.”
Community pharmacy champion
Lindsey continues her work as an agent of change on the other side of the community pharmacy coin, as a member of Derbyshire LPC and as a community pharmacy PCN lead.
“Being involved in the LPC as an independent contractor has been a massive benefit as it helps me understand and influence what is going on locally,” she says, “and being a PCN lead has also brought me a lot closer to the pharmacies on my patch, and everyone working together is wonderful.”
Lindsey’s role in the PCN has also helped her respond to customers’ needs during the pandemic. Her first project was to mobilise community volunteers right from the start of the lockdown in March 2020 to deliver medicines to vulnerable people, rather than waiting for a national scheme to get going.
As the PCN lead she then co-ordinated pharmacists, technicians and dispensers in her area to upskill to be vaccinators at local sites. Unsurprisingly, this eventually led to Lindsey setting up her own Covid vaccination site at the church hall across the road from Good Life Pharmacy.
“Ours is a bit different from most pharmacy-led vaccination sites,” she explains, “in that we have a responsible pharmacist on site who isn't jabbing, with trained vaccinators drawn from local doctors, dentists, vets, retired nurses, and some of my own pharmacy staff. We also have over 100 volunteers marshalling, making tea, and putting the gazebo up and down. There are two ladies in particular that I couldn’t do without who are running the volunteer rota, which is a hell of a job.”
With her typical ‘inclusive’ vision Lindsey admits: “I made this happen because I was determined that we had to do it for the community, but I decided from the start I couldn't do it unless they supported it and helped me, and they certainly have.”
Challenges and successes
What started as three day a week operation quickly grew to a clinic offering vaccinations six or seven days a week, so it’s no wonder Lindsey calls this her biggest career challenge.
“As an independent contractor you have to make your own challenges and your own successes,” she says, “and our Covid vaccination clinic has been both. As I always say: you have to be involved otherwise you can’t make a change, and it only worked because the members of the public that I serve decided to come on board with me.”