Pulling together to deal with tragedy
The Gilbody Pharmacy team were hit by tragedy during Covid but their resilience and professionalism saw them crowned Team of the Year at the Independent Pharmacy Awards. Sasa Jankovic caught up with its owner Justin Gilbody…
“I had the idea for the pharmacy just before my first child was born and it was a dream come true when it finally opened on 21 June 2010, in the community in which my dad was born and grew up,” says Justin Gilbody of his eponymous pharmacy in Skegby, Nottinghamshire.
Winners of ICP’s Team of the Year 2021 award, the team at Gilbody Pharmacy include two pharmacists, two ACTs, three pharmacy technicians and one trainee, seven dispensing assistants, three health care assistants, three drivers and an administrator. A high-volume pharmacy dispensing up to 25,000 items a month, it also provides services including supervised methadone consumption, minor ailments, emergency contraception, seasonal flu vaccines and weight management into a community which has clearly benefited from its presence.
“When I started the business twelve years ago there were no links between GPs and pharmacy in the area, which was also dealing with fairly extensive drug misuse issues and high teenage pregnancy rates,” says Justin. As well as professional, accessible medicines advice and supply, the pharmacy has opened up community access to free emergency hormonal contraception and drug misuse services.
Gilbody Pharmacy has also made a huge contribution to the area’s flu vaccination program, initially as a private service in 2012, with the NHS version following from 2015.
“We were a 100-hour pharmacy and wanted to be able to offer our customers as many services as we could out of hours,” says Justin, explaining the set-up of his private flu vaccination service. "But it was also another string to our bow to increase revenue.”
As well as vaccinating in the pharmacy for NHS and private walk-ins, Justin also runs an off-site flu vaccination service in schools, businesses and care homes in his community, and to housebound vulnerable people.
“I can do 100 flu jabs a day if I’m on duty,” says Justin, “and people love the service, especially those who though they could only get a flu jab from their GP.”
More recently, the pharmacy played a vital role in its community during Covid, staying open throughout the pandemic and increasing the range of its delivery service to help even more people.
The team had its own experience with Covid to deal with, when 12 of the 22 staff tested positive in January 2021. For two weeks the remaining staff, of whom only five were dispensary-trained, kept the business open and continued to support the community, working 100-plus hours a week.
Tragically, one of the team, Lesley Ratcliffe, who had worked in community pharmacy for 30 years, died of sepsis after contracting Covid, and her death hit the team hard.
“Les worked with us since we opened and was respected and loved by everyone and losing her has been so difficult for all the team,” says Justin, who first worked with Lesley back in 1995 when he was 14 years old and on work experience at Crofts Chemist in Tibshelf.
“She, like the other wonderful people in the Crofts Chemist family, made me feel so welcome, and gave me the passion and desire to become the pharmacist I am today.”
Pulling together during the toughest of times is just one of the ways that Gilbody’s team has contributed to the ongoing success of the pharmacy and its loyal customer base that Justin says has made it “one of the busiest dispensing pharmacies in the UK."
However, the pandemic – and the government’s response to pharmacy’s role within it – gave Justin cause to rethink his personal direction, and in March this year he announced the sale of Gilbody Pharmacy to the Brothers Pharmacy Group in Leicester.
“I feel I have really given the business my all but Covid was a big kick in the teeth for me,” says Justin. “At the start of the pandemic I rang my local MP to ask for help with face masks and was told that as we are a private business I needed to sort it out myself.
"Things changed after a few weeks when the government realised they needed community pharmacists once GPs closed their doors and people were dying, but then they wanted the £70-80k upfront lump sum they had given us paying back.
“For me personally I worked seven days a week every day in lockdown, and bank holidays, and gave up time with my family as lots of people have. We never missed a delivery or any services, we look after ten care homes and 150 people at home using blister packs, and we had the multiples sending patients to us as they were closed, but it felt like there was no appreciation at all from the government for all our hard work.”
Justin says selling the pharmacy wasn’t an easy decision to make. “I love being a pharmacist and my amazing team has made the pharmacy what it is today but I really need to give some time to my family and focus on a more sustainable work / life balance.”
However, he’s still involved in Gilbody Pharmacy, working there as a locum a few days a week. “I’m really hands on and when I started in pharmacy I had an ambition to build a business with 20 pharmacies one day,” he says, “but life is about quality not quantity – not just for patients but for my own family and my own life.
“I don't know many people who don't know someone who has died of Covid, and this definitely forces you to take stock of your own life and what you want to do with the rest of it.
“I introduced a pharmacy into a very deprived area in my community and 12 years later it’s been a huge success, so I’ll always be really proud of that achievement, but locuming suits me for now.”