Recently-crowned pharmacist of the year James Tibbs talks to Costanza Pearce about why his pharmacy has a focus on community outreach


Southampton pharmacist James Tibbs was honoured with the Pharmacist of the Year award at the 2019 General Practice Awards in November.

One of the many things that made A R Pharmacy stand out from the competition was its commitment to improving individual lives in its local community.

The pharmacy team has set up a mentor scheme with the local college to train up young people as an accessible point of contact for their peers on difficult topics such as sex and sexuality.

‘It’s really hard-hitting topics that we try to do’, says Mr Tibbs. ‘Stuff that perhaps they’ll find difficult to talk about in a class or with an adult.’


‘Even if it’s just one person you’re saving, it’s worth it’


‘A [topic] we did recently is self-harming, which is quite a big thing at the moment and is unfortunately on the increase’, Mr Tibbs adds. ‘It’s obviously a very emotive topic and it’s often quite difficult for [young people] to engage with adults, so we try to speak to the students and get them on board and then they can act as mentors.’

One student who had been struggling with self-harm, unbeknownst even to her parents, eventually approached one of the mentors and is now going through treatment, Mr Tibbs says.

‘Even if it’s just one person you’re saving, it’s worth it,’ he adds. ‘And on a personal level, as well as for the team, it’s very rewarding,' he says. ‘We’re a very busy pharmacy but it’s these little things that really build up morale.’


Serving the most vulnerable


A R Pharmacy also shone thanks to its commitment to ensuring that some of the most deprived communities have their health needs met.

For example, the pharmacy has been locally commissioned to deliver NHS flu jabs and health checks to the gypsy and traveller community in the area. 

It began with Mr Tibbs delivering drop-in clinics in their community hall after he was approached by a community service team, and subsequently set up a steering group to assess the group’s health needs. 

The team started with flu jabs and health checks because it was ‘an easy thing for us to try and do’ in the face of ‘historic’ trust issues, according to Mr Tibbs.

‘We were just trying to make some quick wins to get their trust’, he said. ‘It’s very difficult with that community because they have a really big trust issue, especially with medical professionals.’

‘They’re not going to go to their doctors or to a pharmacy, so you have to go out to them.’


‘Now they actually come to the pharmacy’


However, the pharmacy team soon found that their outreach into the gypsy and traveller community ‘built and built’, Mr Tibbs says.

‘We found out after doing a few of the health checks that there was real health deprivation. It’s already recognised in various studies but it made me realise personally how deprived [the community was].’

‘They were suffering from conditions completely undiagnosed or not controlled,’ he adds. ‘If they were diagnosed [with a condition], they weren’t taking their medication, so the health checks were really useful first of all and then the flu jabs came off the back of that.’

The funding that allowed Mr Tibbs to deliver the services in the community hall has since been cut, but thanks to the trust that has been built up, the community now has better access to healthcare.

‘Now they actually come to the pharmacy’, Mr Tibbs says.

‘We see them more as friends now,’ Mr Tibbs adds. ‘But I’m still waiting to be invited to a wedding.’