Switch on…then switch off

It’s hard for independents to take a break but for the sake of our mental health we must do so, says Nick Kaye

The nights are drawing in and the change of seasons is upon us. The world reminds us that change is constant and this is somehow reassuring.
Recently, it feels like there has been a change in community pharmacy with new services announced. Yet the challenges remain, unfortunately, and are constant.
The new hypertension service could be fantastic for community pharmacies - finding people whose lives we could save from potential catastrophic change in the form of strokes and heart attacks.
And yet there is the frustration of a paper-based referral system into general practice and a shortage of ambulatory blood pressure monitors. As an independent prescriber, when I find someone with high blood pressure, I will probably refer them to a practice pharmacist with the same IP qualification as me to start a medication that I am competent to prescribe - and that frustration is reassuringly constant!
But I am sure that our pharmacy team will still grasp this service and deliver it in a way our local population will find accessible and easy to use. Community pharmacy - the clue really is in the title.
However, amongst the constants one thing is different for me, and that is that penning this column is the last thing I am doing before a week off. Yes, a whole week off! The last time we went away as a family was Easter 2019. Since then we have added a daughter to our family of four boys.
Despite the anticipation I know the community pharmacist in me will struggle to switch off. I’m sure it’s not only pharmacy owners that feel this pressure and struggle with down time in the same way I do.
However, in the last three months I have seen some really big characters in pharmacy struck down by illness. But even so, I have all the normal worries that always plague me before a holiday. Will the locum turn up? I hope she doesn’t upset Mr or Mrs Smith, with whom I have finally built a good relationship. Can I really afford the £45 an hour it’s costing to be away?
Community pharmacy owners are rarely brave enough to talk about their mental health. For me, a 45-year-old and a child of the Seventies, mental health was certainly not something that was talked about much.
I remember opening the pharmacy as a 24-year-old on the morning of my mother’s death. It was just what had to be done. Resilience and the genuine guilt I feel in being away from the business is something I struggle with all the time. It is difficult to balance family and work, and the responsibility I feel to both.
So as I start to pack the car for departure to Centre Parcs and that worry of leaving the business starts to creep in. But as it is overtaken by the excitement of going away with the family, I am going to start focusing on the fact that maybe, just maybe, I do deserve that week off that everyone tells me I should take.
My business will survive and pharmacy politics will still be there when I get back. Maybe this is the real reassuring constant and it’s me that needs to change.
So I’ve made a decision. I will give myself the permission to enjoy the next seven days and maybe you should give yourself that permission too.

Nick Kaye is a community pharmacist in Newquay and vice-chair of the National Pharmacy Association. These are his personal views.

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