Award Winners Interviews
It's a locum's life
Catherine Haslam works at Good Life Pharmacy in Hatton, Derbyshire, and fought off some fierce competition to win the Locum of the Year Award at last year’s Independent Pharmacy Awards. Saša Janković caught up with her…
In the 30 years since Catherine Haslam qualified as a pharmacist she’s held a variety of hospital pharmacy and PCT roles, but it’s as a locum community pharmacist where her heart really lies.
For over a decade Catherine has worked as a locum pharmacist at Lindsey Fairbrother’s award-winning Good Life Pharmacy in Hatton in Derbyshire, making the switch from hospital pharmacy a few years before that following the birth of her first child.
“After I had my daughter in 2008 the hospital where I had been working had a big rejig in my department and my job no longer existed. They wanted me to come back in another full time role but it didn’t really work with a new baby, so I took a leap of faith, handed my notice in and started looking for locum work in community pharmacy instead”, explains Catherine.
Fortuitously for Catherine, Good Life Pharmacy opened at about the same time that she started locuming, and after going in and introducing herself she ended up helping them out from time to time. “Then in 2011, when I was going back to work after my second maternity leave, Lindsey said she was looking for a regular locum two days a week”, says Catherine. “As I knew the pharmacy so well by then this was an ideal opportunity for me, and I’ve been there ever since – plus I do holiday cover if Lindsey needs it, as well as agency work and locuming elsewhere.”
Since then, Catherine has got stuck into providing extended care services, flu and Covid vaccines – in the pharmacy, and on a larger scale when the pharmacy was operating a Covid clinic in the village hall – as well as working alongside Lindsey signposting and referring patients to other healthcare providers.
Catherine is also trained to support Advanced and Enhanced services and is looking forward to more opportunities opening up in this direction, especially following the Government’s announcement of a Pharmacy First service for identifying and treating a wider range of common ailments in community pharmacy.
“I’ve already done UTI training and contraception training, and we were one of the first pharmacies to take these services on”, she says, “and we are now bringing back the ENT service which enables us to supply antibiotics on a PGD – which had a pause during the pandemic for safety reasons – as well as currently offering patients the next round of Covid booster jabs.”
Indeed, the pandemic was an exceptionally demanding time for the pharmacy, but offered many learning opportunities for Catherine and her colleagues. “Covid was so busy for us and we had to rapidly gain knowledge of how to work safely and manage a significantly increased workload”, says Catherine, “and then of course the vaccination program was another big learning curve. As a result of all that we've had to develop many more skills, and we are now seeing more people with minor and serious ailments in the pharmacy as people are still struggling to see GPs”.
Catherine says CPCS has been “a great help” when it comes to dealing with these patients, and her MSc in clinical pharmacy – and hospital experience – has also benefited her work. “Having the knowledge of how things are done in hospital has been really handy when it comes to the Discharge service and CPCS”, she says, “and it also helps me deal with queries that patients have around what to expect when they are scheduled for surgery, as they can’t always get information in any other ways.”
Citing her favourite part of being a locum as “going to different places and meeting different people”, Catherine says “I love the day-to-day variety of locum life, and it’s nice having the challenge of learning new skills for the services – and there’s certainly plenty to keep up with, especially with Pharmacy First on the horizon.”
However, her travels in locum land have also shown her the sharp end of community pharmacy’s recruitment and retention crisis. “A lot of places where I work now seem to run completely on locums and are struggling to fill their full time vacancies”, she says. “I know locum rates have increased a lot since Covid, and I definitely hear lots of stories of locums booking day-before shifts in order to get the higher rates, which is really stressful for the pharmacy managers and owners.”
Luckily for Catherine, her own career challenges came earlier in her working life. “When I first graduated and was gaining experience in the hospital it was all on-call hours rather than shift work and I was doing my MSc at the same time so it was a challenging few years but worth it in the end”, she says.
“The next big change was going from hospital to community pharmacy, and even though I think that’s easier than going from community to hospital, there’s still a lot of learning about the legalities of running a community pharmacy and about OTC medicines.”
Catherine has stepped in to support Lindsey on many occasions to ensure staff are working to the best of their ability – for example, supervising trainee pharmacy technicians and staff completing accuracy checking courses, and overseeing pre-reg students.
She also provided crucial support to the team when Lindsey underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in 2015. “Catherine is very much part of the pharmacy family at Good Life”, says Lindsey. “She knows the staff and customers very well and that has allowed her to provide continuity of care, ensuring patient queries are answered and any other issues are handled properly, ensuring everyone in the community can access the care they need.”
“I think I’ll be locuming for ever”, adds Catherine. “I like the one-to-one aspect of helping patients in community pharmacy, and can’t imagine myself leaving that behind.”