Stayaways, the highs and lows, and a place called a Westward Ho!

October 20th, 2020 Motivation | Why be a Locum No Comments

This article was written by Nicholas Colwyn Parry, a locum pharmacist working across the UK, and a subscriber to the My Locum Choice Software.

Welcome back to everyone who is reading this after seeing my first blog, if you are new then I am pleased you are reading this and i can’t wait to tell you all about my experiences with stayaways! No massive intro this time, done all that boring stuff in blog 1. This blog is mainly to highlight both the good and the bad things I have discovered about stayaways from making a booking, to leaving on your last day. Here are the highs and the

stayaways the highs and lows

Stayaways, the highs and the lows…

Booking stayaways is relatively easy, I sometimes book direct, but I usually choose My Locum Choice (MLC). The main reason I choose to book my stayaways through an agency is security. MLC are well connected, respect their locums, negotiate good rates, and help you through the whole process. I have experience of a stay away going completely wrong right in the middle and it almost left me sleeping in my car. A lady cancelled 2 weeks of accommodation in Westward Ho! 2 days before I was meant to go to hers as she thought I would bring COVID into her house as I am a pharmacist. I had booked the accommodation for August back in May relatively cheap, but you try and get accommodation for 2 weeks in North Devon in peak season when the only places people could holiday to at the time was the UK. As you can imagine most places were booked, remained closed or charged £150 a night for a single bed. I rang MLC on my lunch and explained the closest accommodation I could get was 68 miles away for that price and he came back after speaking to the co-ordinator and full mileage was agreed to and from my new accommodation.

There is absolutely no way I would have been able to do this and work in the pharmacy at the same time. That’s only one experience of many why an agency is just a better option when working stayaways, they also help you with your invoices, help book accommodation, chase payments for you and do all the legwork of searching for a decent block of shifts.

it is my favourite place in the UK….

Although it was a massive pain in the arse driving an hour and a half each way every day, Westward Ho! Is my favourite place in the UK. Seriously, I’ll attach a few pictures and just go there for God’s sake. Make sure you visit the Pierhouse too and have the ribs! The one thing I love doing when I stay in new places is try different places for food, and for the whole of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme AKA “Uncle Rishi’s Get Fat Quick Scheme” in August 2020 DC (During Covid) it wasn’t just Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was eating out, it was 7 days a week. This is definitely one of my most favourite things about stayaways because I’m a massive foodie.


I’d like to be one of those people who doesn’t get emotionally attached to people but unfortunately, I am a human not a robot and one of the hardest things about leaving Boots was saying goodbye to my patients. They were seriously some of the nicest people I had ever met and I loved seeing them, hearing their stories and helping them. I truly felt like I was their community pharmacist and they let me know that with the abundance of cards and gifts they gave me when I left. To this day I still stay in contact with a few of them as they weren’t patients when I left, they were friends. This is what I would say is the biggest low about my career now. You are sometimes in one pharmacy just for a week, and it’s so hard to build a rapport with patients, colleagues and also surgeries. It is also hard to refer to a good trustworthy medical professional such as a local dentist, a physio or an optician as I simply do not have those connections anymore.

As with stayaways, every negative has a positive, and the positive for this is if you have a particularly rude and demanding patient, you don’t have to see them ever again. Like seriously, I am checking your medication and making sure you don’t die, you’d wait for your take-away, you can wait 5 minutes for your medicines. Please sit down.

It is also much harder to see a difference in the patients you are treating, you may only see them once. You may only have interaction with them, and you may be the only person they speak to that day so crack a smile because it goes a long way. 

Seeing that one person though can be so crucial as you may spot something that no one else has for 6 months prior. For example, I had a lady who had been getting 2 Spiriva respimats every month for 2 years and when I questioned her about her usage, she literally told me she just throws the second one away. The prescription was written for 60 doses but as we know a Respimat has 60 puffs, but 2 puffs are one dose. This is where the confusion lay, but it is a massive waste and loss that anyone could have pointed out. To second this, the amount of times I have asked to check a patient’s inhaler technique and they say it has never happened or they’ve never been showed shocks me.

knowing they’ve never been shown shocked me!

You may have heard of people spraying a Ventolin on their chest for asthma, but I can do one better. A lady had 8 Ventolins a month and she had her medication delivered and ordered by the pharmacy, I rang and asked her if she could come in so we could discuss her inhaler usage, but she said her chest was too bad. After literally a couple of questions she told me she doesn’t inhale it at all, instead she sprays it on the cat because that is what causes her asthma. Seriously you couldn’t write it. The point of that story though is to show that even if you have just one conversation with someone you can make a difference. She did come in and we did reduce her to one inhaler which saved the NHS money by reducing waste, improved her quality of life, and save one poor salbutamol covered cat!

we saved the NHS money and improved her quality of life…

Pharmacy layouts are always an interesting one with regards to being a locum in general, not just stayaways. I like to be in view of the public and earshot of the counter, that way I can hear what’s going on at the counter and the patients can see the pharmacist and I can always assist when the counter staff are unsure, require a hand or need advice. I like to hand out as many prescriptions as much as I can and ask if they have any questions. I believe how I work in the pharmacy gives the patient a better experience rather than to just have a sealed bag from the back brought out and sent on their way.

The layout of a pharmacy can assist and equally it can hinder this. Pharmacies come in all shapes and sizes, big, small, cramped, some are over multiple floors and some are multiple rooms with different staff in each room. Some pharmacists checking areas are in the back, or a separate room. Some pharmacies are that long if I handed out every prescription from the designated checking area to the front I would do 100,000 steps a day. There is a really easy fix to this, just ask if it’s okay to change your checking area and most importantly, explain why. Most of the time I have been told they prefer the pharmacist to be near the front of the pharmacy. However, I totally understand why some pharmacists choose not to check in view of the public as everyone is different and different things distract different people. You want to be in the best mindset when checking so you pay attention to everything and most importantly, you don’t make a mistake. Do whatever works for you!

Do whatever works for you!

As well as the layout of the pharmacy being different, so are the staff. Working around staff politics and incompetence are 2 of the most interesting skills you are going to have to learn. Dispensaries can have a clear divide when you walk into them, and you can meet technicians of 30 years who don’t know the difference between capsules and tablets. As a day to day locum you have to assess the team, know who to go to for help and work there all in a day, and this can be challenging. Working with difficult members of staff is definitely a hard part of stayaways, I’ll explain in more detail in a later blog as this is a bigger issue than I thought. But in short, working with someone for 3 weeks who is very coarse, lazy or rude can be very problematic. There are ways you can try and ease this, I find making a brew (yes, I’m from the North) or a bag of Haribo goes a long way. Unfortunately, some people are just bad cranks.

As I previously mentioned, you can change the pharmacy with consent. As a locum you aren’t there to change practice, but if there is something wrong you must work with the team to resolve it. You are a pharmacist and it is your duty of care to make that change if necessary or put in place the steps for that change to occur. I never take the “it’s always been that way” answer if it is something that is outright dangerous or malpractice. That is your time to step in and help.

This leads me to the last point I’ll make on this blog which is to always leave a handover. You can leave it for the next pharmacist or with a member of staff you can trust will pass that message on to the pharmacist, but you must leave one. It can be as simple as a bullet point list explaining what you’ve done, important figures and phone numbers or something significant that happened in the day. It just saves so much time when you are trying to resolve an issue as you can just pick up where it’s been left off and not start again. There is nothing worse to walking into a pharmacy after a week off with absolutely no clue what happened in your absence.

To find out more about being a locum pharmacist by checking out our website!


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