The Pharmacy Forum NI hosted a support services engagement evening, “Knowledge, Support, Referral” on Thursday 16th May 2019. Organised by the Forum’s Education and Research Committee, the event was designed to afford an opportunity for pharmacists to engage with and learn from, key support groups and organisations in Northern Ireland. We were delighted to be joined by our guest speakers, Pauline Millar, Head of Service, Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke (NICHS), Ali Stunt, Founder and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action, Margaret McDonald, Carer Co-ordinator, Belfast Health & Social Care Trust and by Mary O’Hagan from the Community Development & Health Network (CDHN), who provided an information stand.

The focus of the evening was on making a direct connection between the activities of the organisations represented and the work of pharmacists, with the aim that in addition to learning more about the specific services offered, pharmacists would be equipped to identify and target need when it presents. Also, that they would be able to refer on to the appropriate support service and/or to assist the patient to self-refer.

Chest, Heart & Stroke NI highlighted their “Breathing Better Support Network”, which is a collaborative service between NICHS and local Health and Social Care Trusts, supporting people living with COPD and other lung conditions to help them manage their conditions and breathe better. The service also offers people living with respiratory/lung conditions the opportunity to meet other people living with the same or similar conditions. This “peer support” can be a lifeline for many people who have lost confidence as a result of living with their condition.

Pancreatic Cancer Action took the opportunity to raise awareness among pharmacists of the key signs and symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer. This is vital, as early detection increases survival rates. At present there is no routine screening for the disease. Pharmacy teams are well placed to spot the risk factors, including smoking, diabetes, obesity and chronic pancreatitis. In June Pancreatic Cancer Action will be distributing health information packs to over 500 pharmacies in Northern Ireland, as part of their PCAware Campaign. This will include information on how to access their free e-learning module on pancreatic cancer, designed for pharmacists and pharmacy staff. The pack also includes a symptom reminder pen and notepad, awareness and fundraising materials and details about their patient information.

Finally, Carers Support Service rounded up the evening, discussing the role of carers, how to identify a carer and how best to help them to access support. Once again, the vital role of pharmacists was highlighted in supporting the health and wellbeing of carers as well as helping to identify “hidden carers”, in local communities.

The Forum and the organisations involved were greatly encouraged by the very positive response to the event, with many of those attending expressing their enthusiasm to take the learning into their own professional practice.