We speak to the Pharmacist/Pharmacy Team of the Year Award shortlist ahead of this year’s General Practice Awards, to be held on 8 December in London.

The sixth and final entry under the spotlight from this year’s shortlist is Gareth Evans, community pharmacist at Wansford Pharmacy in Peterborough.

Mr Evans entry for Pharmacist of the Year highlights his work on sleep apnea. He believes the condition to be under-treated, yet implicated in many of the worst medical conditions.

Using NICE guidelines, Mr Evans established a patient-funded sleep apnea screening and testing service at the pharmacy in January 2023, taking advantage of free training through the British Society of Pharmacy Sleep Services. Subsequent collaboration with patients’ GPs enabled referrals to sleep clinics, with accompanying sleep data allowing the fast-tracking of pre-screened patients.

This, according to Mr Evans, has reduced potentially year-long waits for initial sleep clinic appointments via GP referral to around eight to 14 weeks. He also reports a positive effect on the pharmacy-GP relationship and the quality of patients’ lives.

Patients can self-refer to our service, but the pharmacy frequently engages patients with it from cues such as queries around snoring, reflux, increased night-time bathroom visits, type 2 diabetes and weight management queries. Also, as ’sleep difficulties’ forms part of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, local GPs use this to refer patients to the pharmacy.

Staff are now trained to initialise conversations on sleep issues, referring those of importance straight to the pharmacist. By discussing snoring with patients, a previously hidden impact on relationships was discovered, with many patients sleeping separately and even unable to share a hotel room in some cases. Sleepiness behind the wheel was also reported.

Mr Evans reports that patients who have received a positive airway pressure machine are now getting the sleep they need. The business has also seen a ‘massive increase’ in income, both from the standalone service itself and the ability to link it to the pharmacy’s other services, including weight management, NHS hypertension case finding and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring.

The service has enrolled approximately one patient per week since its start in January 2023. Local GP interest and word-of-mouth is providing many more enquiries, says Mr Evans.

What they said

A review on the NHS website by a patient visiting Wansford Pharmacy for a blood pressure referral says: ‘Upon return the results were fully explained and advice given on a further range of linked issues.’

The patient adds: ‘Despite being needed elsewhere, the pharmacist never tried to rush through anything and gave great information above and beyond! Really good service and I walked away feeling like it was a refreshing change, compared to previous experiences at different practices/locations in the past!’

Another describes being anxious but being able to ask questions, which were ‘answered in a very professional way’. The patient added: ‘I wasn’t made to feel rushed at all, which was also very helpful.’

Last year, West Midlands-based pharmacist Helen Kilminster won the Pharmacist of the Year Award after demonstrating she is an advocate for fair and equitable access to healthcare.

See here for more information about this year’s General Practice Awards and the gala dinner and ceremony, which will be held at the Novotel London West on Friday 8 December.