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Swords pharmacies meeting the challenge of a rapidly changing industry

MacNamara’s Pharmacy is a family run business, and business owner John MacNamara operates four
independent pharmacies in North Dublin. Each of the branches is totally unique.

Grainne Gibney is the pharmacy manager in MacNamara’s pharmacy on Swords Main Street. She explains to IPN how each branch has its own demands. “We have three branches in Swords and a branch in Raheny and each one is completely different in terms of the dispensary. Our customers here on the Main Street would be more traditional Swords customers whereas in the Boroimhe there are a lot of families and young people. With the doctors surgery near our store in Boroimhe it means that although they are busy the dispensing would be quicker with just maybe single items. In our pharmacy here on the Main Steet there would be a higher proportion of older people so most of our prescriptions would be for multiple items. That’s why we are so busy.”

The branch on Main Street, Swords is a well-established pharmacy with a great team and a loyal customer base. The staff are trained up to a very high standard and customers enjoy the warm and friendly atmosphere, which is balanced by professional knowledge.

MacNamara’s website states that this is a pharmacy that will go to great lengths to research and source difficult to find prescription or OTC products for customers.

Independence

Irish Pharmacy News met the team in the Sword’s branch of MacNamara’s Pharmacy. When asked about the challenge of maintaining independent status in a market crowded by franchise and buying groups, pharmacy manager Grainne Gibney says buying is their biggest challenge.

“Buying is a challenge so there’s a lot of competition and it’s very hard to compete price-wise so certainly Yvonne Hughes who is the shop floor manager is always looking for something a little bit different to stock to give us a bit of an edge. But buying and keeping costs low is a challenge. Particularly now things have changed so much as regards what the HSE will pay for. But we have a loyal customer base and that’s because they know us. They come back for that.”

MacNamara’s Pharmacy benefits from passing pedestrian traffic and is located not far from Swords Castle, which has recently been designated by Fingal County Council as a cultural quarter. Tourists are common in the area and MacNamara’s competes with Swords Pavilions, a large shopping centre at the opposite end of the town to the Castle.

Swords is the largest town in Dublin and the second largest town in the country. In many ways it is like a small city, but MacNamara’s has retained a loyal customer base of people who live mainly in the traditional housing estates that surround the Main Street.

“Some people like to go to a nice big anonymous pharmacy and just deal on a professional basis but I think our little thing is that we have been here since 1994 and mostly we know everybody and we even recognise their voices on the phone.”

Grainne explains that the pharmacy relies heavily on a phone-in type service, and customers know the staff so well that the system works for everyone.

“We have an issue with parking as it’s a busy Main Street and that’s why the phoning-in works. We couldn’t cope with people just arriving in. The wait would be too long.”

Dispensary challenges

Grainne explains how the dispensary can be impacted by changes to the profession, and while new duties are added to the pharmacists list of chores, the daily dispensing still needs to be taken care of.

“The challenge all pharmacies are facing is how rapidly it’s changing. So many issues arise and when you’re trying to do your daily dispensing, which is nearly full time in itself, and then you have all the other things to attend to – paperwork and things like GDPR and we would be very conscious about protecting people’s privacy. Now, you can’t fax scripts to doctors or vice versa. It’s all to go through Healthmail so that’s another thing you have to remember; and then there are all the standard operating procedures that have to be in place. I can see the need for them and the benefit for them but trying to keep on top of them, well personally I find it a challenge. There’s always information coming in from the HSE or the drug companies. Like we just had the valsartan recall issue so that was challenging because doctors had to be contacted and customers medication had to be changed. We had to source valsartan from somewhere else and in the meantime everybody else has to get their prescriptions.”

Valued staff

Grainne has worked in MacNamara’s for 20 years. “We feel [John] is very loyal to us and he is very good boss and a very good manager. He is also a very good pharmacist. In fact he is terrific, I find it amazing how he retains it all. Certainly he is a very good employer as far as the staff are concerned. He’s very fair and we are all treated very well if we ever have any issues or challenges. We are not a chain like Boots or Lloyds and it is a family run business. Most of the staff have been here for years and years and years and there is very little staff turnover.”

In such a busy pharmacy, it’s not possible to leave the dispensary unattended so pharmacy technician Alison Donnelly held the fort while Irish Pharmacy News caught up with Tina Dillon, OTC advisor with MacNamara’s for 14 years.

Pharmacies could not operate without OTC staff and Grainne introduces Tina as a “valued senior member of staff” and “one of the linchpins who keeps things going for us all in the pharmacy.”

Tina Dillon is very much the friendly face of MacNamara’s on the Main Street. She is known by customers as someone who is kind and friendly and who always has a smile on her face. When asked how she always stays upbeats Tina says, “I like working here and I just feel like it’s a second home. We are kind of like a family here.”

Tina has been around pharmacists for a long time. “Pharmacists are a clever little bunch. They know their stuff so we respect that and only for them the shop wouldn’t be open. It’s a very busy dispensary. Some customers come in and think I should be able to just take what they need down from the shelf myself for them so I have to explain there’s a little bit more work to it than that.” In a busy town like Swords, Tina is at the coal-face.

“A small minority of customers can be difficult and you just have to try and calm them down because if they are worked up then I’m worked up and you have to keep them calm so these guys can do their job behind the dispensary without feeling stressed.”

Not everyone is cut out to be a pharmacy OTC adviser and Tina proves that this is not the kind of job you just coast through. To be good at this job, you must be prepared to constantly progress.

“I always liked shopping in pharmacies, as everybody does, so I got a job in a pharmacy in the city centre – very busy job – I loved it but I just wasn’t learning. Nothing was going in. The girls were too busy to teach me. You can read and read and read but I think you have to thrown in the deep end to learn.”

Tina later moved to a pharmacy in Skerries and loved her time working in Adrian Stack’s. She’s been working for John MacNamara for 14 years. Irish Pharmacy News asked Tina what keeps her here. “Definitely it’s the staff. And John has our best interests at heart and I want to work hard for him. It’s not like coming to work. I don’t wake up in the morning dreading it. I didn’t start off knowing everything but they taught me and it just built up from there.”

Swords is a strong and changing community and MacNamara’s Pharmacy lies at it’s heart. The team work tirelessly to ensure the communities of Swords, both old and new, maintain a good overall level of health. Long may their independent presence on the Main Street last.

The challenge all pharmacies are facing is how rapidly it’s changing. So many issues arise when you’re trying to do your daily dispensing

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