It may be regarded, by some, as a ‘tome of doom’, lurking in the recesses of a pharmacy just itching to haul a pharmacist into a sustained bout of heavy reading. But others may see it in a very different light. Far from visualising the ‘tome of doom’ as a pending chore, a locum pharmacist may see it as an opportunity. An opportunity, ultimately, to secure more bookings. How does that work? All will be revealed. But first, what is this secret doorway of opportunity of which we speak?… Introducing [insert incomprehensibly loud and mildly discordant fanfare here]… The SOPs…
Since 1st January 2005, all RPSGB/GPhC-governed pharmacies have been required to produce Standard Operating Procedures – frequently abbreviated to SOPs. SOPs precisely map out the way in which a specific pharmacy business and its staff will comply with pharmacy regulation, and deliver a safe, high quality service to the public.
ARE SOPS REALLY THAT IMPORTANT?
Standard Operating Procedures are vitally important. They’re inextricably linked with pharmacy regulation. But they personalise that regulation for each individual business, explaining how key requirements should be met within the environment to which the SOPs relate. SOPs, then, are a pharmacy’s own interpretation of the way processes should be handled in order to comply with the law, protect patients, and protect pharmacy staff.
Whilst SOPs can be long and detailed, and might accordingly be envisaged as a prohibitively time-consuming read, they’re of great value to pharmacists – especially locums. Why especially locums? Because locums encounter a much wider range of working circumstances than pharmacists in static roles, and are thus more likely to need a company-specific reference point from day to day.
SOPs are that reference point, and they come into their own in areas where one company is likely to have a different policy from the next. Equally, where there’s potential overlap between the roles of two pharmacy staff members, SOPs can be expected to define exactly who is officially responsible for what. And when documenting processes, SOPs can take into account such variables as the company’s choice of computer system. The whole point of them is to explain how the big picture translates to one working environment.
Back in spring 2004, over six months before SOPs became an essential requirement for all pharmacies, locum pharmacist and Team Locum director Terry Yearsley wrote a document explaining the role of Standard Operating Procedures. Here’s how Terry outlined the basics, as finalised by the RPSGB – regulator of the profession prior to the GPhC’s inception in 2010…
There are SIX mandatory Society SOPs as follows:
- Prescription handling i.e. accepting the prescription from the patient or prescriber and confirming the script is correct and appropriate declarations have been completed.
- Assessment of the prescription for validity, safety and clinical appropriateness ie confirming the script is legal, allowed under the NHS, appropriate for the patient to have and that no drug interactions are present.
- Interventions and problem solving i.e. the process to follow in dealing with interventions and who is responsible for contacting the prescriber and informing the patient.
- Assembly and labelling of medicines.
- Accuracy of checking procedure.
- Transfer of the medicine to the patient i.e. handing out of medicines to patients.
In addition to the above mandatory SOPs, other areas may be covered e.g.:
- Extemporaneous dispensing.
- Ordering of “specials”.
- Disposal of returned medicines from the public.
- Drug Alert and recalls.
- Handling dispensing errors.
- Handling customer complaints.
Because the information provided is company-specific, one SOP guide can be quite different from the next. It’s definitely not a case of: “When you’ve read one, you’ve read ’em all“. That’s why they’re so important.
FOR THE LOCUM
A locum does not have the same economy of time investment as a regular pharmacist who consistently works at one site. The locum might only visit a given pharmacy once, and if the SOPs are long and detailed, that will be a lot of reading time to invest in just one booking. One would expect the client to be realistic about the time available for a locum to read their guidelines. Clients should, and no doubt in most cases will, recognise that for a pharmacist providing one-off, emergency cover at zero notice, there may well be priorities over and above sitting down to read the SOPs.
But with that said, it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to be conversant with the SOPs. When providing cover for a client she or he has not previously visited – even in one-off, emergency circumstances – a pharmacist should establish how the SOPs can be accessed. Knowing where that reference point lies is a must. In order to follow procedure, the pharmacist has to know what the procedure is.
More broadly, however, locums can see Standard Operating Procedures as a means of standing out. Making an impression. Getting ahead.
The perfect locum is one who can seamlessly integrate into a working environment. But it’s not magic. The information on how to do that comes from a very real and ordinary place. Experience is of course a major factor in being able to seamlessly integrate. But a full assimilation of the SOPs can replicate the benefit of experience. So, for locums who really want to make an impression with specific clients, time spent thoroughly reading their SOPs is an investment – with a reward.