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Gerald Quigley Talks Pharmacy and Immune Support

Community pharmacist, master herbalist, media health commentator and author Gerald Quigley has been passionate about integrative medicine since his early career, which spans nearly 50 years.

Gerald is passionate about empowering people to control their health via greater understanding.

Right from the beginning in their shopping strip pharmacy, Gerald and his now-retired pharmacist wife, Philippa, noticed that the same people with the same health issues returned to the pharmacy repeatedly. The couple made a conscious decision to become better involved with their customers and their chronic diseases, determined to help people understand their illness better and, most of all, to ensure that their illness did not define them.

“Philippa became the dispensary manager, and my role was to spend as little dispensing time as possible. I focused on mixing with customers and those whose health we felt we could make a difference to,” says Gerald.  

The couple aimed to empower people to control their health via greater understanding.

“This is important because, of course, pharmacists are health professionals. But if you ask anyone the name of their GP or dentist, they will know. But what about their pharmacist, the person in charge of their health,” asks Gerald.

So, the team made a point of getting to know customers by name and being a part of their wellness. Every staff member carried a business card and sought feedback on nutritional medicines and how patients were progressing.

Empower with information

The couple often saw the same people with the same conditions, including diabetes, asthma, hypertension, raised cholesterol and psoriasis. Soon, people would line up and talk about their issues, and Gerald and the team would discuss medicines and the role that complementary medicines could play.

“We aimed to help people understand that they didn’t need to be dominated by their condition. Our message might be to consume more omega-3s, exercise regularly and not smoke – we were people-centric, and people responded to that,” Gerald says.

Better Understanding, Greater Responsibilities

Gerald strongly believes that helping people understand more about their own health comes with responsibilities. Any food a person consumes has a physiological action, and every medicine has a pharmacological action.

“Pharmacists have a responsibility to ensure the patient understands their medicines and their health plus that they provide feedback to the pharmacist so that individual and mutual understanding can grow.”

For example, when a patient is prescribed a statin, it is important to explain how Ubiquinol and CoEnzymeQ10 production is affected. And, for people taking Metformin, explaining how vitamin B12 levels can be affected. It is professionally reprehensible not to do this and is a fundamental nutritional requirement.”

Supporting Immunity

Given the current pandemic, Gerald notes that immune support is as important as ever. “Many factors contribute to immune support. And there is evidence-based research to back the use of certain nutrients. Given that so many people consume takeaway foods so often, and 94% of people don’t consume enough vegetables and fruits, there is a need for better nutrition. I recently read about the role of music in immune function – anything you can do to support healthy immune function is worthwhile,” he says.

Speaking about one of the most widely used analgesics, paracetamol, Gerald notes that according to the Australian Medicines Handbook, the mode of action is unknown. “Plus, a study published two years ago found that paracetamol was no better than placebo for arthritic pain,” Gerald says.

Reinventing the Business of Pharmacy

Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it may be the perfect time to reinvent the pharmacy business, suggests Gerald. “Listen to the information people can share and take the opportunities to upskill everybody who works in a pharmacy.” From a complementary medicine perspective, Gerald believes it is now more important than ever.

“The best advice I could give pharmacy staff is to research and be confident about a topic –pharmaceutical or herbal. You don’t have to be an expert on everything. Choose an area and specialise in it. Currently, perhaps consider immune-supporting herbs or vitamins to offset insomnia or anxiety. For example, understanding the role of vitamin D3, Echinacea and Astragalus, to name just a few and how their antiviral actions apply.”

Pharmacists’ professionalism needs to develop faster than their commercialism,” he adds, “pharmacy graduates need to shift their thinking from illness to wellness. Teaching needs a fundamental overhaul because it can make a real and positive difference to people,” he says.

Herbal and Complementary Medicine Training 

If asked to choose between a pharmaceutical topic or an herbal topic, Gerald says he would probably choose to learn about an herbal topic or one with a base in complementary medicines.

“Much pharmaceutical education is company-sponsored while complementary medicine presentations tend to be headed by practitioners who can also supply a patient history. And this is practical knowledge that can be used in practical situations,” he says.

Petty Controversies

“CMA does great work with the TGA and responds to the petty controversies touted by FSM, e.g. focussing on imported supplements with their sometimes outrageous claims. They should be thinking more about how we could reduce the risk to patients from overseas products. Australia’s complementary medicines industry is more responsible now than ever and needs pharmacies and medicines to support them.”

The sniping in news media about complementary medicine disturbs Gerald. “There is little publicity about the dangers of prescription medicines – take Lyrica, for example. Lyrica is now the most prescribed pain medication on PBS, but there are calls for nationwide monitoring after reports that it may cause depression and anxiety. Other side effects can include coma, but you won’t read about them in tabloids. Yet if a milk thistle supplement imported from overseas causes a side effect in one person in the outback, that would make front-page news,” Gerald says.

Ethical, Not Monetary 

Gerald underlines the need for a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare for patients. Strong relationships with dietitians, nutritionists, naturopaths, and more will forge stronger professional relationships.  The basis should be ethical, not monetary.

Finding a trusted practitioner who puts your welfare before he requires trial and error stresses Gerald. “Like finding a good GP or plumber, the professional must understand and respect the individual and request and respond to feedback, including the pharmacist. What an opportunity for pharmacists to be involved! If patients are not confident to ask their pharmacist, it’s a sad indictment on our profession.”

We should all aspire to unite our industry to become more ethical urges Gerald. “And pharmacists and their teams understand that we can make a difference and help make the world healthier,” ends Gerald.