Interview with Kar Man Chung, a pioneering Community Pharmacist

| Azad Sharma

At the Ideas Alliance we are really fond of hearing stories about spaces being re-imagined, re-used, re-purposed. Bringing the community together often requires a space to gather, to meet, and to share. Sometimes these spaces are vacant and need an injection of life, a bit of decoration. But there are spaces like pharmacies, for example, which we use regularly but are often pigeon-holed by the mundane process of simply collecting medicine. Surely, though, pharmacies provide a unique opportunity for community organisers to meet people of all walks and stages of life? A trip to the pharmacy is on everyone’s to-do list. It’s a space where the medical world meets with community on a daily basis. So how can we re-imagine the pharmacy as a space of community engagement? A space that facilitates the provision of support for a community as well as a social setting for the community to gather in? Are ‘community pharmacists’ going to be a key feature in the future of community based care (Health Foundry)?

In May we went to meet pioneering pharmacist Kar Man Chung who works at the Hills Pharmacy in Lambeth, South London. We wanted find out more about what community pharmacists do, how the pharmacy can be a new and inviting space for the community, a tea party he held for local residents last summer, as well as how his partnership with South London Cares came about. 

Could you tell us about the tea party you organised last summer?

It was a culmination of work I was doing previously. For me, it’s great that I can host events and host local organisations in my pharmacy so that people can come in and a group like Age UK can engage with people there. However, what about the people who can’t come out or who don’t visit my pharmacy? They’re the people most in need or most isolated. 

I had an idea of doing a tea party in a sheltered housing accommodation called Rupert House. It’s a place familiar to me as the pharmacy delivers medication to a lot of residents there. Each time I went to see it, I noticed this lounge space in the building which wasn’t being used. I got some of my partners involved in that: South London Cares, AGE UK, Repower London, The Black Prince Trust

The warden of the accommodation was more than pleased because, after speaking to some local residents, it transpired that they’d had a lot of funding taken away for events like this. I said I’d provide something to eat and some tea and we held an event for a couple of hours. It ended up overrunning! The majority of residents were able to come down to this lovely lounge space and get to know each other again. It also allowed other local organisations to speak to them about their events or how they might be able to support them. For me the whole thing was about making residents aware that they don’t have to be isolated and also that there are organisations that can help them. To be honest I didn’t really do much ‘pharmacy’ that day, I was making the tea and making sure the residents were okay. 

How did your partnership with South London Cares come about?

As well as being a community pharmacist, I am also the lead pharmacist for the North Lambeth Local Care Network (LCN). These LCNs came about through people trying to find out what is happening in an area and trying to connect people together. I was going to all these meetings and getting to know all these great people but I felt I wasn’t actually doing anything about it. 

I decided to put my money where my mouth is! I decided to approach South London Cares first. It’s great what they’re doing. They go to GP practices and supermarkets to reach out to people. I just asked them if they’d thought about pharmacies. They said they hadn’t but thought it was a great idea. We agreed that they’d come to Hills Pharmacy once a month on a Friday afternoon, which is usually our busiest, and whilst people are waiting for their medicine they could talk to them about their work and see if people were interested in joining. That’s our longest partnership and it’s been going on for about 2 or 3 years. It’s still going and I’ve been invited to a couple of their events and I’ve been doing outreach work that way by talking to people about what their local community pharmacies can do for them.

What is the role of a community pharmacist? Could you give me some examples of what community pharmacies can do?

We don’t just give out medicines! There’s lots more we can do for communities. We do blood pressure checks, we give out stop smoking advice, we give out information about how we can review their medication and let the doctors know if there’s any issues. 

The message we’re trying to give the public is that we’re specialists in medicines, in the knowledge of medicine, and we can give out advice about medicine. Whenever you have an issue be it a minor health issue or something you’re not quite sure about that you might not warrant an appointment with your doctor: go and see your local pharmacist! We’re more than happy to help you. This is why we have consultation rooms in pharmacies now. We can talk in private and then you can let us know what’s going on. Our consultation skills are much improved as a result and we’re trying to aim at looking at the holistic picture of an individual. 

For example, it’s great that we tell a person how and when to take their medication but there might be obstacles in that person’s day to day routine which may prevent them from taking their medicines. There are lots of reasons why someone might not be able to take their medicines aside from that too. We’re here to help with that. Another great thing about community pharmacies is that we’re open longer hours. You don’t necessarily need an appointment. We can also become great connectors in the community. Me and my team are trying to embed that into our practice. I would love other community pharmacies to get involved. 

Do you have anything planned this summer or any other events coming up?

I would love to do another tea party in another type of accommodation or community centre. Every year I’m finding more and more partners to work with. It’s about just trying to keep momentum. We are all busy people but we do great work with the little resources we have. All the people I meet are really passionate about their work and that keeps me going. I do want to try and plan another event. I also want to create a ‘wellbeing clinic’ here at Hills Pharmacy and I’m currently looking for advice about that. I’m also approaching art galleries to see if we could hold an event there.

What has been your ‘best’ mistake with this work?

I invite local organisations in to the pharmacy but I never advertise it in my space! It’s something I know I need to change, making my customers and my staff aware of what’s going on. It’s one thing I’ve learned along the way: no matter who I invite it’s only going to work if I spread the word about it.

Are you a community pharmacist trying out new ways of working with your community? We would love to hear from you, as would Kar Man. Get in touch by emailing azad@ideas-alliance.org.uk or Kar Man at pharmacist@hillspharmacy.net.

Photo by Martino Pietropoli

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