Ruilin Ng felt that there was a “roadblock” between herself as a pharmacist and patients with life-limiting illnesses… so she decided to do something about it
“In our community there’s a higher proportion of the elderly, so you usually see a lot of people with chronic pain or cancer pain, and obviously terminally ill patients as well,” says Ms Ng (pictured), a community pharmacist at Chemplus Woodcroft in South Adelaide.
“The one thing that triggered me was that when they came in and spoke to me about their situation I felt there was a fullstop, a roadblock in what I should be saying to them.”
Ms Ng saw a communication from Paul Tait, an advanced practice pharmacist at the South Australian Department of Health, about the Program of Experience in the Palliative Approach (PEPA) program, which is funded by the Department. It provides opportunities for primary health care providers, including pharmacists, to visit a host site for up to five days to develop skills in the palliative approach.
On taking a PEPA placement, she was able to liaise with a range of health professionals working in the palliative care space to gain a better understanding of what they do, and what palliative care can achieve—as well as helping them understand more about how community pharmacy can help.
“The best part for me was to go out on a trip with the community nurse to visit patients—I got to see what she does, and to tell her what we can offer to help as well,” Ms Ng told the AJP. “I get phone calls from her to check certain prescriptions that the patient can come in and fill.
“I also saw the nurse practitioner and did rounds with consultants and doctors in the hospice, and I’ve spoken to the social worker, the bereavement coordinator and obviously the pharmacist at the hospice as well.
“I was able to join in on their meetings and was able to tell the staff in the hospice what we do, and what can be improved about the relationship between us.
“And from observing what they do, I can modify what I change in the community pharmacy to help them with their medicines and promote daily living aids, for example – some people who are still in the community would need shower stools, shower chairs and so on and apparently from what I understand from talking to the nurse, a lot of the community would not know where to get them. I was quite surprised by that!”
She encouraged other pharmacists to find out more about palliative care by speaking to local support workers or investigating the PEPA program.
She also encouraged community pharmacies to consider stocking the five “essential” palliative care drugs: clonazepam 1mg/ml, morphine 10mg/ml, haloperidol 5mg/ml, metoclopramide 10mg/2ml, and Hyoscine butylbromide 20mg/ml.
As for those “roadblocks,” Ms Ng says she received invaluable advice from the hospice’s bereavement coordinator.
“It’s very simple,” she says. “You just express your interest in them. Just ask them how they are, and that’s it.
“She told me that sometimes they just want someone to care, that’s all.”
National Palliative Care Week runs from May 21-28.