There is a team of General Practice Pharmacists (GPPs) in each of the 17 GP Federations across all of NI. Claire Harding works as a GPP in east Belfast. She writes about her move over two years ago from community pharmacy into GPP.   

Moving into GPP has been a very steep learning curve for me as I quickly realised my clinical knowledge was just not as sharp as it should be. However, I am part of arguably the best pharmacy team in Northern Ireland, Team East Belfast, and with their constant and reliable guidance and support, they have made the transition fairly seamless for me.

I work part-time from 8.30am to 12.15pm and that flexibility really suits my family circumstances as I can be home in time to do school pick-ups and help with the homework. It also means I am long gone in the mornings before the familiar cries of “has anyone seen my (insert as appropriate) shoe/lunchbox/very small unnecessary toy?” begin!

I work between two practices and have been warmly welcomed and embedded into each. The practice team consists of support staff and other healthcare professionals such as GPs, nurses, other pharmacists etc. and by working closely with one another, we learn from each other’s experience every day.

The role of a GPP is relatively new. Over the last five years this sector of pharmacy has developed and grown and today we have over 370 pharmacists in our workforce in NI. I often feel that we act as a bridge between the worlds of hospital and community pharmacy. We regularly liaise with both sectors and also other allied health professionals such as dieticians, district nurses and physios.

The content of our work is wide and varied and no one day is like the next. On a typical day I start with assessing the prescription request list and issuing prescriptions as appropriate. Then I answer any telephone queries from patients or community pharmacists which may result in changes to medications or advising of alternative suitable products etc.

After tea-break, I turn my attention to medication reviews and reconciliations. This part of my job looks at each medication and checking that it is appropriate for what it is being used for and its dose, whether it interacts with any of the patient’s current medication and of course if it is safe. I also help to advise the GPs on suitability of products in terms of availability, cost-effectiveness, licensing, prescribing within current guidelines and the NI Formulary. And from time to time we run audits to make sure our practice systems run as they should.

However, the part of my job that I enjoy the most is undertaking face-to-face (pre-Covid) review clinics. In one practice that is a contraceptive clinic and in the other it is for our diabetic patients. I love being able to make a real difference to patients health and wellbeing and these clinics allow me to do that. They give me an opportunity to provide health promotion as well as updating medications or assisting in changes to current regimens. These clinics also allow me to keep up-to-date with my clinical skills such as taking blood pressure readings and administering annual flu vaccinations.

During the Covid-19 pandemic our way of working turned on its head overnight as we all found a new way of working to keep everyone safe and continuing to care for patients. I have been immensely proud to have been part of our health care system throughout this pandemic and proud of both the surgery teams that I am part of and also my East Belfast pharmacy team and how everyone has dealt with the changes and shown such camaraderie and professionalism. I was so proud to have been able to be part of the surgery’s vaccination team in providing some of the first Covid-19 vaccinations in Northern Ireland.

The role of a GPP is evolving rapidly and it is very exciting to be part of that and influence the way in which this growing sector is developing. The role caters for lots of different people as we not use our clinical skills and knowledge that we were trained for but we also maintain our patient-facing interactions.

If you are looking for something that uses your pharmacy skills and knowledge to the full, broadens your professional scope and provides a wide and varied role then you should definitely consider a call to GPP – there is something to fit everyone and a very warm welcome!