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Clare Morrison: ‘I honestly think this is the most exciting role in pharmacy in Scotland’

Clare Morrison, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s new director for Scotland, explains why being part of leading a professional body is a massive opportunity to achieve her ambitions for pharmacy in her country.

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Source: Courtesy of Clare Morrison

Clare Morrison ran NHS Near Me before taking up her new role at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Former community pharmacist Clare Morrison joined the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) as director for Scotland on 21 September 2020. Prior to taking up her new role with the RPS, Morrison was the national lead for NHS Near Me, a video consulting service for health and social care across Scotland. In the latter months of Morrison’s time with NHS Near Me, the service was made available to all community pharmacies in Scotland. Morrison, a Fellow of the RPS, was awarded an MBE for services to healthcare in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours. 

Morrison’s pharmacy career spans a range of sectors. Here, she speaks to the journal about her previous experience, RPS Scotland’s current work, and the importance of relationship building within — and outside of — the whole pharmacy sector.

What’s your background?

I started out as a community pharmacist, and then got tempted into the world of pharmaceutical journalism — I worked at The Pharmaceutical Journal for a few years. I think that opened my eyes up to possibilities, and what was going on across the UK as a whole. I learned a lot about what was happening in Scotland, and made a decision to move to Scotland to return to community pharmacy — I worked in Caithness for a number of years. As that role progressed, I did my supplementary prescribing training, then independent prescribing training, and set up a number of services with different GP practices. I then got interested in service development as a whole, and I started to work for NHS Highland in different roles looking at service development and prescribing advice, and I also worked in GP practices.

I was really fortunate to complete the Scottish Quality and Safety Fellowship, and a year later the US-based Intermountain Advanced Training Program in healthcare delivery improvement. Both of those gave me a real grounding in quality improvement. From there, I worked in a number of improvement-type roles, the most recent of which was initially very much focused on medicines safety, and then moved into developing some pharmacy services using video consulting.

That led into the creation of NHS Near Me, a video consulting platform used across Scotland, which obviously really exploded in interest with COVID.

NHS Near Me is now available to all pharmacies in Scotland: how do you think that’s been received by pharmacists and patients?

In terms of patients, we’ve got a really good understanding, because just before I left that role we completed a national public engagement exercise. We think it was the first exercise in the world to ask the public as a whole, and not just those who had already used video consulting, what they thought of the idea. We found that there is a massive public appetite for using video consultations. That exercise challenged a lot of the assumptions that had been made: people often suggest that it is not suitable for older people, but that’s not what we found at all. We found acceptability was really quite high. It dropped off a little in older people, but not to the extent that people said it would.

We also looked at a range of barriers, in an equality impact assessment. For every barrier someone could identify, they also identified enablers as well. For example, some people with autism find a change in the way their services are provided really difficult to cope with. So if they are used to going into a pharmacy, then they’re going to find it difficult if you change that and say, “I want you to do this by video instead”. But conversely, we found another group of people with autism who said that coming into any NHS premises is stressful because of the sensory overload. They said that being able to talk to someone in the quietness of their own home was much better for them.

Until now, community pharmacy has tended to focus on the medicines supply function as part of the consultation; we need to think about how that would work with video consulting. A number of people have suggested, particularly in light of going into a second wave of COVID, that patients could have their consultation by video and then come to the pharmacy in person to collect their medicine. So the time they spend in the pharmacy, that exposure time, is reduced. But I think there’s probably more work to do on developing these models.

What attracted you to the role of director for Scotland?

I honestly think this is the most exciting role in pharmacy in Scotland. It’s a fabulous opportunity; it’s an honour; it’s a privilege. My background includes working across a number of different pharmacy sectors and, more widely, in improvement, and I have always believed that for pharmacy to be a strong profession we need a strong professional body. For me, to be part of leading that professional body is such a massive opportunity.

You’ve joined at an unusual time. How much of your work is COVID-focused at the moment, and how much is business as usual?

I think that our role is to drive forward in two key areas. One of those is around supporting RPS members, and the other is around leading the profession. When you look at what that involves right now, a lot of it is going to be about COVID, and a lot of it is going to be about Brexit as well. These are two massive issues facing the country right now, with pharmacy and medicines implications.  

RPS Scotland is about to launch its mental health policy. What are the key elements of that?

It is in the final stages of production. We all understand that there are key medicines aspects around managing mental health conditions. What this policy is trying to do is describe the roles that pharmacists can play in improving the care of people with mental health conditions. It sets out six key recommendations, including around new medicines — so when someone is prescribed a medicine for the first time, ensuring that they have the appropriate information and support — and also around having the right expertise and pharmacist support available, so having the more specialist pharmacists available to support the teams as a whole.

It is something we are hearing a lot about, and we want to do more to help pharmacists. One of the things that has come up quite a lot from pharmacists we have spoken to is a feeling of isolation that, perhaps, wasn’t there in the past. Probably particularly in community pharmacy: you go to work, you are very busy, you do your job, and you come home. There isn’t the opportunity to meet up with people as there was in the past. When you’ve had a bad day, or a bad week — and we’re all busy at the moment — there’s something about talking to your peers and just catching up; letting out all the stresses and strains that you’ve been through. If we found better ways to network, and enable people to talk to their peers a bit more about what they’re going through; to get that support from someone else; that might be a way we can help people manage those feelings of real stress that people are under at the moment.

We are looking at how we can support the peer networking that was there historically with face-to-face meetups. 

You used to be The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Scotland correspondent. How did that come about? What was the experience like?

I worked for The Pharmaceutical Journal from 1999, and after a couple of years I took on the Scotland brief. People in the news team were asked if they had a particular interest in any area, and I had a Scottish boyfriend so Scotland seemed like a good one for me! But my goodness; how lucky I am that that was the brief that I had. It has gone on to shape my entire career. I learned so much about what was happening in Scotland, and people in Scotland were incredibly welcoming in terms of giving me information about the different services that were being developed. One of the first big things that happened was the launch of the Right Medicine strategy in 2002, and I was fortunate to be in Scotland for that.

In 2005 we packed up and moved to the Highlands, where my husband’s family are from, and I have been here ever since. At that time, the community pharmacy role in Scotland was a much more clinical role than I could have in England back then, and that was the kind of pharmacist I wanted to be. I’m really lucky having gone into the prescribing roles and working within the NHS board, as that opened up further opportunities.

When I moved to the Highlands, I kept up The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Scotland correspondent role until 2014.

What would you like to have achieved by the end of your first year in the role?

I’m a few weeks into the role right now, so it’s very early days. My key priority so far has been communication. I have been building relationships as much as I can, obviously with the Scottish pharmacy board and other people within the RPS. And also externally, with different stakeholders; the other pharmacy organisations; the Scottish government; and the directors of pharmacy.

I really want to engage with, and work with, as many different organisations across Scotland as I can. And that also goes for individual pharmacists, as well: if it wasn’t for COVID, I would be out and about meeting people and talking to people.

I really believe that pharmacy needs a strong professional body. And to have that, we need members to engage with the RPS and we need to be linked in with all those other organisations, working together to push forward the agenda for pharmacy in Scotland. So, for me, communication, engagement and networking is the first priority.

In a year’s time, I’d like to see a difference in that people are much more engaged with the RPS; they want to be members, and they can see the difference that we are making in terms of supporting and leading the profession.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208458

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