FEATURE: The beating heart of our hospitals

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The pharmacy is undoubtedly the beating heart at the centre of our local hospitals, responsible for reducing pain, fighting infections and improving the quality of life for thousands of patients with long-term illnesses.

Each year the dispensaries at Eastbourne’s District General Hospital and the Conquest Hospital in Hastings supply a staggering 500,000 items to patients, from packets of paracetamol to potentially life-saving cancer treatments.

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Today I’m visiting the Conquest to see the pharmacists at work.

The East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust employs around 120 pharmacy staff based at the Conquest, DGH, Bexhill Hospital and the Rye, Winchelsea and District Memorial Hospital.

The pharmacy at the Conquest is a frenetic hive of activity, which is hardly surprising given that 
around 300 prescriptions, comprising of some 500 items, are dispensed from here each day.

But the pharmacy team is spread throughout the hospital, as Simon Badcott, chief pharmacist at the Conquest, explains: “A lot of the work of the pharmacy team is actually outside the department.

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“We have ward-based pharmacists and technicians to help manage patients’ medication at the bedside.

“When the patients comes into hospital they will review the medicines and check GP records.

“They prepare for discharge from the point of admission, ensuring all medicines are in place.”

The team on the wards use tablet computers to access patients’ notes and orders for medication are sent down to the pharmacy.

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The orders are inputted into a computer and a giant robot arm quickly selects the correct medication from the shelf before putting it into the dispensing bay.

This impressive piece of technology, which cost in the region of £120,000, has had a huge impact on the pharmacy since it was purchased by the trust around five or six years ago.

Mr Badcott said: “The real joy of this is it will pick the right medication every time as it will match the barcode to the correct drug.

“This changed the job quite considerably.

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“Back then it would have been floor to ceiling shelves.”

The prescriptions are checked by staff before being dispensed.

Gesturing towards a computer screen, Tracy Hedley, lead pharmacy technician, education and training, said: “Every order comes up on this screen and a work list is produced here.

“They will work through that list and once they work through this list a technician or dispenser will pick it up and issue the label which we will then bring out.”

She said of the process: “It’s possible to do it in five minutes, but realistically longer than that because people are working on several.”

In addition to the pharmacy’s lightning fast robot arm, there are also automated medicine cabinets located in a number of wards, allowing staff to access drugs at the point of care.

Mr Badcott explained: “Nurses use a code to access that cabinet and pull out that particular medicine and that sends us a message to let us know that needs restocking.”

There are currently 15 of these automated medicine cabinets in use across the whole trust, with more expected to the rolled out shortly.

The items stocked in these cabinets vary from ward to ward, as Ms Hedley explains: “ITU (Intensive Treatment Unit) would have completely different medicines to medical wards.

“And A&E for example would have a lot more in the way of pain relief.”

The pharmacy department in the Conquest also includes an aseptic suite - a controlled environment where chemotherapy drugs are prepared.

Staff working in the suite use isolators and wear protective clothing and there is a controlled air supply to protect both the staff and the product they are making.

Chemotherapy drugs for both the DGH and Conquest are prepared on site at Hastings.

The service was consolidated at the Conquest in 2016, as Mr Badcott says: “It’s a more efficient way of doing it.”

The aseptic unit supplies around 13,000 items of cancer chemotherapy per year.

The final part of the tour around the department takes me to an immense delivery bay and I find myself surrounded by stacks of pills and potions of all descriptions.

Mind you, it is hardly surprising that the bay is so big, considering the Conquest pharmacy alone receives a huge 20 to 25 deliveries each day.

The team is responsible for purchasing medicine worth approximately £32 million a year.

As the push for a seven day NHS continues, this hard-working team is planning to expand the service the pharmacy offers to patients.

Ms Hedley explains: “We are a five day service currently, with a limited service on a Saturday, but we are hoping to have a seven day service in the future.”

An out of hours service is also currently available.

To find out more about the pharmacy departments at your local hospital, visit http://www.esht.nhs.uk/pharmacy.

STAY WELL WITH THE HELP OF YOUR PHARMACY

A&E departments across the UK are currently under enormous pressure as patients turn to them for help during the winter months.

But by consulting with your local pharmacist at the first sign of a winter illness, a trip to hospital could potentially be avoided.

Winter weather can be seriously bad for our health. Being cold can aggravate existing conditions and raise the risk of increased blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

However, there are lots of things you can do to stay well this winter.

• Get expert advice.

Always seek advice from your pharmacist at the first sign of a cough or a cold before it gets more serious.

• Buy over-the-counter medicines.

Many over-the-counter medicines (including paracetamol and ibuprofen) are available to relieve symptoms of common winter ailments such as colds, sore throat, cough, sinusitis or painful middle ear infection (earache).

• Keep warm.

Keeping warm, both inside and outdoors, over the winter months can help to prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression. You should:

- Wear several layers of light clothes, as these trap warm air better than one bulky layer.

- Heat your home to at least 18C (65F).

- Stay active – try not to sit still for more than an hour or so.

- Keep out the cold at night by keeping your bedroom window closed as breathing cold air increases the risk of chest infections.

• Get the right help.

Make sure you’re receiving all the help you are entitled to. Learn how to make your home more energy efficient and take advantage of financial schemes to keep up with energy bills.

Visit Go Energy Shopping, the Ofgem website, to find the best deal for your gas and electricity.

You can also check your heating and cooking appliances are safe and operating properly by contacting a Gas Safe registered engineer.

Pregnant women are encouraged to get the flu vaccine which has numerous benefits including reducing the risk of serious complications, such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.

It will also reduce the chance of a mother passing on the infection to her unborn baby.

The free flu nasal spray can help protect children aged two, three or four.

You are also entitled to a free flu jab if you have certain serious conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.

For more advice on how to keep well this winter, please visit www.nhs.uk/staywell.