Now in its eighth decade, McCaughan Chemist has grown to become an integral part of its community.
Frank A McCaughan established the business in 1959 in the rural coastal town of Ballycastle. Over the years, the business has grown to accommodate two further pharmacies in the local area.
James McCaughan, his eldest son, joined the family business after qualifying as a pharmacist himself. He did his studies in Liverpool and after completing his pre reg year, he spent four years in Dublin working in a busy city centre community pharmacy. He returned to Ballycastle in 1996 to work with Frank.
James also got involved with the farming side of the business, which sold animal health products to farmers in North Antrim and indeed across the province.
He says: “My father was born and reared on a farm and had a keen interest in veterinary medicine. Back then it was a fairly well-worn path for pharmacies in rural locations.”
“When I was a child the shop was in a premises that was one half of a terraced building,” recalled James.
“My father took every opportunity to reinvest in the business and this allowed for the original premises to double, and eventually quadruple in size. When I came home to join the business, we integrated other professional services such as a physiotherapist and a chiropodist and then added the Post Office.”
James eventually took the reins of the pharmacy in 2000 and now employs 12 staff alongside six part time staff at three different sites.
Regarding his membership of the NPA he says: “We’ve had instances of dispensing errors and a tricky situation where I needed legal advice from the NPA. With the support of the NPA, we were completely vindicated and the legal team at the NPA were brilliant in handling the matter.”
He adds: “To have experts like that, as experienced as they are, is incredible. I remember vividly being so grateful. You can lift the phone to somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about. As a consequence of that I started to use the NPA more for things like human resources and so on.”
James also has Anne McAlister, the NPA’s Northern Ireland manager, on hand to talk to if he ever needs advice or guidance.
“I can lift the phone to Anne, anytime of the day or night during the week,” he explains.
“She’s a fantastic resource for pharmacists in Northern Ireland. She has been excellent in helping us prepare for the covid vaccination roll-out here.”
Over the years McCaughan Chemist has become an integral part of the community and James, who is also the chair of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland, still loves speaking and interacting with patients.
“Of course we have embraced technology. We have EPOS systems, we have digital photography systems and a pouching robot. All these developments are things you take in your stride because they are all about delivering the best service possible to our patients. The patient is still the key to our business – what I love about working in the dispensary is the opportunity to spend time talking and interacting with the locals.”
James adds that expectation of pharmacy from the public “has gone through the roof”, but on a positive level.
“The reality of the situation is during this last year, pharmacy stood up when everybody else stood back,” says James.
“Deliveries became the key focus as they allowed us to look after vulnerable people who were isolating and shielding – this meant so much, to so many people. We became the go-to problem solver from a primary care perspective.
“The staff here were incredible and we had to be very agile and flexible as community pharmacy tends to be. We had to invest in adjustments to the premises and make sure staff were safe. Then it was a matter of making sure the doors were open.
“We are at the centre of this rural community and have become a key primary healthcare provider.”
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