Chulmleigh is a remote Saxon hilltop town in the heart of Devon and, until 1997, the location of the only pharmacy in the area.
Our practice area covers 100 square miles and around 6,500 patients so, when the Chulmleigh pharmacist retired and closed his shop because he was unable to find a successor, something had to be done.
As a small rural practice, we suddenly had to cope with not only an extra 20 per cent dispensing, but also with an increased demand for appointments and telephone consultations - the pharmacist's previous advisory role in our community was sorely missed by our patients, and by us.
Because we also felt threatened at that time that big pharmaceutical players might move into our practice area and threaten our dispensing income, we decided to set up a limited company and apply for the pharmacy licence ourselves.
After due process we were granted the pharmacy licence, but had to put matters on hold because the new build of our health centre, which would incorporate space for a new pharmacy, took precedent. The then North Devon PCT was very supportive throughout the whole process.
Initially we were unsuccessful in appointing a pharmacist who shared our ideas. We were not looking for a retail pharmacist, but for someone who was an innovative, community and clinically focused pharmacist, someone who could offer additional skills to our practice team as well as additional and improved services to our patients.
Karen Acott was working for North Devon PCT at that time, as the pharmaceutical advisor, and had indicated that she was looking for a new challenge. With her wealth of experience and her innovative ideas, she seemed the right person for the job.
We approached her, but she was not eager to go back to working behind the counter.
Ms Acott says: 'I made an off-the-cuff remark that I'd consider a partnership and to my surprise they offered me one.'
Continued practice strength
Since joining us, Karen has made this new and unique job her own and has taken the partnership from strength to strength. So far we have remained a dispensing practice throughout.
Being a partner at the practice has allowed Karen to extend her role into a variety of clinical areas where a pharmacy would likely have provided too many obstacles.
For the practice, with the help of our pharmacist partner, who is also a prescriber in her own right, we have extended the services to our patients in the areas of chronic disease management, repeat prescribing, minor ailments and hospital discharges for example. Karen's advice to us when dealing with yet another 'therapeutic conundrum' has been invaluable and has hopefully made us safer prescribers.
Since Karen has joined our team we have become Investors in People, we have been awarded the Dispensing Quality Scheme and our practice profits are healthy due to her excellent business skills. We have also been able to rise to the challenge of quality framework and other PCT and DOH challenges in a much more structured way.
Last month Karen received two professional PHARMA awards - Outstanding Contribution to Primary and Community Care Pharmacy Award, and Pharmacy Professional of the Year.
These national awards celebrate and reward the achievers of the pharmacy profession, promoting medicines, education and utilisation.
Karen's successes are for her work in the daily operation of a primary care team and ensuring patients are better educated and more compliant about their medicines. These awards recognise that this model of working has been highlighted as best practice.
A pharmacist as a partner to us has been a match made in heaven. We are ready for the future, new challenges, new opportunities.