Conefrey’s Careplus pharmacy is on a corner of Dublin’s iconic Pearse Street. Surrounded on one hand by history and on the other by modernity, Conefrey’s has managed to make the most of this conflict and has retained its position as a stalwart of the community. Pharmacist and proprietor Tomás Conefrey’s relationship with the shop, and with pharmacy, started when he was just a child.
“This is a family business and it’s been open since 1955. My late father set it up. I studied pharmacy in the University of Sunderland and when I qualified I came back home and I’ve been working here for the past 20 years. We used to be in here when we were small and now my own children come in, so there’s a real family dynamic to the place. When we were growing up, we had this extra member of the family and it was called ‘the shop’. It was always ‘how’s the shop?’”, Conefrey tells Irish Pharmacy News.
Tomás Conefrey’s mother, Mrs. Conefrey, still works behind the counter serving Dublin’s inner city community and despite the constantly changing economy and the ever-changing nature of Dublin city itself, Conefrey’s is one constant that the local community can rely upon. The demographic includes working class inner city families and bankers on their lunch breaks from the many international corporations that surround the premises. Conefrey knew that in order to keep up with the competition, he had to get the building under control.
“Around five years ago I was looking at doing a remodel on the shop but we were hamstrung by the structure of the building itself, which is 140 years old. Once we got that sorted out, I was a lot happier. We have a visibility now that we never had before. People can see into the store from across the road and the natural light is lovely. It’s a big change.” With the help of Careplus, Conefrey explains how he was able to bring the building up to an acceptable standard. He tells IPN that he is very satisfied with the decision to continue to become part of the Careplus network. The store is now bright, fresh and modern, and is a testament to Conefrey’s persistence and brave decision-making, and to the assistance provided by the Careplus Support Office. “I’d been trying for a while to get something organised to address this issue and it was a massive job, I was finding it very difficult to get anything done. I wanted to modernise and give it an uplift but there was no point in doing a remodel when we had cracks down the walls and that kind of thing. Careplus assisted me where the building was concerned and I’ve had a very positive experience. It’s a big change, but it’s a good change. Previously if I wanted to find something out I’d have to go rooting around for it myself whereas now I get to bounce ideas off the Careplus business development manager. It takes a bit of getting used to but it’s starting to make my life easier. It is making a difference to the business, especially our front of shop which was always a challenge.”
Conefrey is passionate about his job and enjoys his role serving the local community of Dublin City. His outlook is one of determined positivity, after a period of unsettling change.
“I’m happy in the shop and I am happy doing this job at the moment. I try not to get too stressed about things anymore. Whatever comes down the line, we will handle it. Pharmacists went on strike in 2009 over the changes to the contract and that would have taken a lot out of me but things are getting better now. If someone was to ask me what I do I’d tell them I am a community pharmacist because I do my best to be part of the community. It is a very rewarding job. It’s not easy either – the days can be long – but I love what I do. I think it’s a great job. Around the downturn it was hard but things are looking fairly good now.”
Conefrey is active on social media and likes to keep up to date with issues and trends affecting pharmacists at all stages in their career and profession. “I have a pharmacy student here at the moment on placement and I was only telling her yesterday that it’s a great job. It’s opened up a lot in the last few years – there are lots of really positive opportunities available to young pharmacists now. Previously in my mind you had hospital pharmacy, community pharmacy, and industry but now after speaking with some students is seems that there are lots of branches off each of them that can be totally different. There’s a whole range of different placements available and lots of nice niche jobs out there now as [the profession] has segmented into smaller ones so there are lots of opportunities for young newly qualified students.”
Conefrey retains an enthusiasm for serving the public that compliments his many years of experience and still gets excited about the pharmacist’s role in making people’s lives better. “From now until Christmas it will be full on with the flu vaccine and I love that part of [the job]. It’s so accessible – potentially on their lunch break people can come in here and get vaccinated against the flu and be on their way in fifteen minutes. It’s just another service we can offer to the local community and it takes a bit of pressure off the doctors. The GPs around here have a lot on their plate. Some years only a handful of people would come in for the vaccine and it was disappointing, but there about two years ago it seemed to click. You just have to keep repeating the message year on year and eventually it will become ingrained in people’s minds.”
Conefrey is realistic about the challenges faced on a daily basis and is tuned into the issues that pharmacists are watching for. IPN asked what the biggest challenges are, and how Conefrey’s addresses them. “There is a big challenge when your number one customer is the HSE and they are under pressure to get their budgets down so that is a major concern – but then again it’s always going to be there so I don’t know what the solution to that is. Providing extra services, such as emergency contraception, 24 hour blood pressure monitoring, and vaccinations can bring opportunities. Medicine shortages are also a big problem at the moment. I have about 20 things that I am looking for.”
IPN asked how Conefrey’s Careplus gets around this perennial issue. “It depends really, there are options, for example I could try and get an unlicensed version of it but it’s more expensive. Even if they are reimbursable on the scheme you only get a certain amount so you may have to buy something that’s more expensive than the reimbursable price, so there is a shortfall between the two that means you are out of pocket.“
Conefrey also demonstrates a willingness to keep progressing and evolving – and has learned to roll with the punches. IPN asked how the business is preparing for some of the important imminent changes that are on the horizon. “Medicine shortages, especially with Brexit, are one thing that I would be sort of worried about. Not worried exactly, it’s just something to be aware of. Over a period of time hopefully these things will start to resolve themselves. In my experience with medicine shortages they do come back or something happens where another manufacturer comes into the market and it is addressed – but I suppose Brexit has confused the whole issue now. As for the falsified medicines directive, at this stage now, it’s just another thing we will build into the day. That’s the way I look at it. I try not to get stressed about these things anymore. You just reach a point where you say, whatever comes down the line we will handle it.”
By fusing the wealth of knowledge from an older generation with youthful, enthusiastic ambition, Conefrey’s Careplus pharmacy is in a great position and is fit to compete. The dynamism on display is wonderful to witness and Tomás Conefrey is a fantastic example of what is possible in community pharmacy when you stay up to date, try to get ahead of the curve, and most importantly – stay positive.
Author: Áine Carroll