Hala Jawad is a community pharmacist based at Boots, London Gatwick Airport. She talks about the opportunities and challenges in helping the patients visiting an airport pharmacy.  

How long have you been working in community pharmacy? What attracted you to working in community?

I have worked in community pharmacy for around nine years, and I have been fortunate that this coincided with a rapid expansion in a pharmacist’s clinical role.

I originally looked at a pharmacy career as I wanted to combine my love of science and healthcare together with a passion for helping others. I saw community pharmacy as an ideal way to do this, that included continuous contact with patients at its core, thus enabling me to have a positive impact on their health on a daily basis. The fact that this now includes a greater clinical input than previously has been a great motivating factor in my continuing development.

What does your job look like day-to-day?

My main role is working in an airport pharmacy, although during the pandemic I also worked in high street pharmacies when one of the terminals was shut down.

The job resembles that of a regular pharmacy but differs in that you meet people from across the world who normally have a limited amount of time to interact with you. It is a very fast paced and exciting branch of pharmacy which I really enjoy. I love that I can help so many people resolve issues in a timely manner, whether that is with my team or by liaising with the wider healthcare team in the airport, such as paramedics.

The day can start really early at 4am, which felt unusual at first. One thing we have to bear in mind is the different names and classification of medicines available abroad which may not have the same status in this country, so we need to tailor our advice accordingly. The various databases available on the internet are a great source of help including access to Summary Care Records of UK residents.

In common with all pharmacies, we provide OTC advice on a wide range of conditions. On occasions, the presence of red-flag symptoms has enabled me to call other healthcare professionals such as the paramedics to ascertain the seriousness of symptoms. This is a really important consideration when patients are about to embark on a long flight where immediate emergency help may not be readily available.

What is the biggest patient need, and how does that influence your work?

One of the biggest needs that presents itself in an airport environment is for advice or medication that will enable the patient to continue their journey without unnecessary delay. The continuing reclassification of medicines from POM to P or their supply under PGDs has enabled me to treat a variety of conditions that would previously have necessitated a visit to a GP – obviously not the easiest thing to arrange when you are airside in an airport.

Requests for emergency supplies of medication is also higher in my pharmacy that it may be in a high street pharmacy. I have to bear in mind the ease with which the patient may be able to obtain the product or something similar at their destination and any impact that a delay in obtaining the medication may have. If necessary, I can arrange a telephone consultation with a doctor when the medication is not normally covered by the regulations.

Are you currently undertaking any training, and how is it going?

I’m on the path of applying for an Independent Prescriber course although I am finding it difficult to find a designated medical practitioner to oversee this as my main work is in the airport pharmacy. It would be helpful if there was some in-house support in this direction to help pharmacists in a similar position that may not have easy access to a DMP.

Do you have any areas of special interest or any particular projects that you’re working on?

I am a Boots national PDAU representative covering London, Airports and Stations, and recently expanded this to become a South-East regional committee member. It is an amazing role that has enabled me to develop myself personally whilst understanding the challenges facing my colleagues across the region. The PDAU has a great reputation for representing pharmacy and I am honoured to part of the organisation.

I also continue to keep in contact with the University of Brighton, supporting undergraduates during an important part of their development.

What do you think will be the biggest opportunities challenges in the sector as a whole, over the next five years? What changes would you like to see?

One thing I have noticed in recent years is the number of patients that start their conversation with: ‘I was speaking to the pharmacist in my GP surgery’. I think this is an amazing development and would like to see a pharmacist on the permanent staff of every surgery. Not only is their clinical knowledge invaluable, but they have an in-depth knowledge of formularies and potential savings that could be made, that can then passed on through other services.

We have made tremendous strides in recent years with the greater integration of pharmacy teams into the primary care teams, especially on a clinical level. I would like this to continue but sometimes worry that pharmacists may think that it will be the limit of their role and involvement. We should continue to adapt to an ever-changing environment and provide the highest level of support to our healthcare colleagues. For example, the increasing understanding of pharmacogenetics and its importance in drug therapy would be a great opportunity for pharmacists to show their expertise at a fundamental level.

What do you like to do in your time off?

I love to travel and try new food; sometimes too much food! I love to travel abroad, but there are so many beautiful, interesting places in this country to visit as well. I enjoy socialising with friends and family, which includes an inordinate amount of time discussing fashion!