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Paul McDonagh has been in the pharmacy profession for 18 years. In 1995, he started running McDonagh Pharmacy, in partnership with his father. ‘We are a community pharmacy in an area of west Belfast that has a number of socioeconomic problems,’ says Paul. ‘We have high levels of unemployment, as well as health problems, such as obesity and alcohol addiction.’
A year ago he and other members of the local Health Commissioning Group, responding to input from the community, launched an obesity and cardiac risk screening programme called Healthy Hearts in the West. They based it on a pharmacy-led weight management scheme originally developed in Coventry, which had proved to be effective. ‘A lot of the background work had already been done, so for us it was just about implementation,’ says Paul. ‘That made it more cost-effective.’
Paul’s role was to focus on people aged over 40. They were encouraged to visit the pharmacy by posters and by recommendations from other community healthcare professionals. ‘We would offer them a cholesterol test and a diabetes test, then we would put them on a weighing machine that calculates BMI and measures fat content,’ he says. By the time people had been weighed, the results of their blood tests would be available; this would be followed up with questions about their lifestyle.
People whose BMI indicated that they were obese were offered a weight management programme and the chance to visit the pharmacy weekly for a check-up on the weighing machine. ‘That motivated people to follow their programme,’ he adds.
Paul referred patients to other community organisations who were able to offer support, such as exercise classes. He also participated in screening sessions run at local workplaces.
‘The ability to offer health screening through a community pharmacy makes it easier to reach people who might be intimidated by the thought of raising the issue with their doctor – particularly men,’ says Paul.
He is confident that the scheme, has helped a significant number of people, with results for the first nine months showing that 372 people underwent vascular risk screening.