John O’Connell and Sheila Lennon outside the pharmacy on Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny
“My one piece of advice during the current health crisis would be to continue to look after your health and not to neglect all the other conditions and ailments that are still affecting you,” said Kilkenny pharmacist John O’Connell.
Throughout the ongoing pandemic, community pharmacies have remained opened, including Haven O’Connell’s Pharmacies on Rose Inn Street, and High Street in Kilkenny.
“We are very much still on the end of the phone and only too happy to help,” said John. “Covid-19 may be in the headlines, but your other ailments are important too.”
Pharmacists are medicine’s experts and the importance of their role came to the fore as the Covid-19 outbreak hit - they stayed working at the frontline, at the heart of their communities.
For many, like John, serving their local community is a family tradition. John’s grandfather took over the Rose Inn Street pharmacy in 1937, while his father Michael took over the running of the High Street pharmacy in 1965. John himself qualified in 1995, a proud third generation pharmacist.
Covid-19 has brought many changes to how they work in the pharmacy.
“The greatest challenge is the speed at which the pharmacy staff has had to change work practices and adapt to working during the pandemic,” he said. “I am extremely proud at how everyone has taken these changes in their stride in a good humoured and professional manner.
“None of us could have foreseen that we would now be wearing surgical facemasks while working together and counselling our patients from behind Perspex screens, but here we are. Everybody is just getting on with it.”
John says it is the casual chats he misses the most. “The shop floor is obviously very, very quiet at the moment,” he commented.
“We genuinely miss our customers coming into us and worry about their wellbeing, particularly the older ones cocooning at home. We can imagine how lonely some of them can be, so we often are spending a lot of time on the phone, not only discussing their medicines and arranging deliveries, but just chatting. I think it’s really important to keep open the channels of communication between us and our customers.”
Sheila Lennon, who is Supervising Pharmacist at O’Connell’s Pharmacy on High Street echoed John’s sentiments.
“We have made many deliveries of medicines to cocooning over-70s,” she said. “We found that the customers were not only delighted with the delivery service but also with seeing another human being, having a bit of banter and even being able to drop a letter in the post on our return journey.”
While the home deliveries have lengthened the work day, John praises the support of the local community and emphasises the importance of the deliveries.
“My wife Kate and I both work in the pharmacy and each evening we deliver medicines to our customers who are unable to leave their homes or who may not have anyone available to pick up their prescriptions for them,” he said.
“We usually head off around 6.30pm after the shop has closed and do the deliveries on foot. I think doing this ourselves has strengthened our relationship with those customers; they appreciate the effort. This takes us a couple of hours, but we’ll be home for about 8.30pm.
“The local Gardaí and GAA club have also offered their support, and they been wonderful,” he added. “Some of our customers live pretty far away from us so they have very graciously offered their services to deliver to some of these customers. We try not to lean on them too much, but we know they are there, and they have been a great help to us from time to time.”
Sheila says there are also many positive stories happening at the moment, and little things make a big difference.
“Humorous comments from customers make our day as humour costs nothing and lifts the spirits,” she said. “One customer commented one day that the new Perspex shields on the counters made her feel like she was in the ‘Cube’ game show!
“Many grateful customers have also dropped in kind gifts of biscuits and chocolates. We got a very pleasant surprise one day when a box of goodies arrived from a group called ‘Feedtheheroes.com’ – we felt like heroes for one day and then got back to work!”
Some Government changes have also made practical sense in how pharmacists work, including the use of technology, which allows GPs to send prescriptions via email and new regulations that allow pharmacists to extend the maximum validity of a prescription from six months to nine months. John says many customers are also now using their app to order their prescriptions, which is proving very useful.
“It cuts down on the amount of time they need to spend waiting on their prescription, and we can communicate with them via the app so they know when everything is ready for them.”
Ultimately, for John, Sheila and all staff working at O’Connell’s they have faced the challenges of the last few weeks head-on and continued to serve their community.
“I am confident that we can rise to any eventuality and future challenge that the virus may throw at us,” he finished.