As a pharmacist, dispensing medicine and a certain amount of medical wisdom, Conor Falvey reckons he has a worthwhile job.
But as a businessman (he owns Falvey’s Pharmacy in Douglas Village), he has witnessed the sometimes fickle nature of the public.
When the multi-storey car park at Douglas Shopping Centre went on fire at the end of August 2019, Conor’s premises, adjacent to the centre, had to close down as it shared the same power source.
The pharmacy was otherwise unaffected by the calamitous fire that shut down the shopping centre until November of this year.
“We had to close for two months,” says Conor. “I eventually got my own power supply so we got up and running.”
But he estimates that the pharmacy lost nearly 50% of its business. Customers were directed to a nearby pharmacy. That became their new routine.
“Christmas came and everyone was preoccupied with that and then Covid came so people sat still. But look, we’re still here, still trading away. The shopping centre is back so slowly but surely, things are getting back to normal. This time next year, hopefully, Covid will be gone.”
Conor took over the family business in 2006. It was started by his parents in 1975. His mother was a pharmacist and his paternal grandfather was a pharmacist also.
The second of four children, Conor enjoyed working in the pharmacy from a young age, tidying shelves and helping to stock them. He was the only one of his siblings to have a real interest in the pharmacy.
“Ideally, I’d have liked to have worked alongside my mother but unfortunately, she died twenty-three years ago. She was one-of-a-kind. People still come into this day and say what a lovely lady she was. She’d do anything for you. She was a people person.”
Conor’s parents officially worked a six-day week, from 9am-6pm. But often, if a customer attended their GP late in the day and wanted their prescription dispensed after the appointment, Joan Falvey would go back to work in the evening get the prescription ready. Sometimes, paperwork had to be at night.
“Times were tough. Business was hard. Starting off, my parents had to put in the hours to establish the business.” But this didn’t turn Conor off.
He studied for his degree in pharmacy at Sunderland University. At the time, the only university in the Republic of Ireland offering a pharmacy degree was Trinity College. Or there was the option of Queens University in Belfast.
“You would have needed to be a straight-A student to get into those colleges. There were more options in the UK. You applied through a different system. I was fortunate to do my degree in Sunderland.
“I loved it, I met loads of people. The experience probably stood to me. It’s still a very popular university for pharmacy. But now, we have UCC doing it and the Royal College of Surgeons.”
After spending three years studying, Conor had to work for a year in a pharmacy within the UK jurisdiction. “At the time, my mother was very ill. The nearest place I could get to was northern Ireland so I spent a year working in a pharmacy in Newry. I used to travel up and down every weekend to see my mother.”
For a while, Conor worked alongside his father in Falveys. “My father sold it on to me. I employ five to six people, one of whom is a pharmacist.”
The pharmacy business has changed over the years with late-night pharmacies ensuring that medication needs can be catered for at all hours. “In my mother’s day, things like cough syrup were made up (on the premises.) Now, everything comes in a pack of 28 or 30. There’s also more gifts and cosmetics on sale to bring in more revenue.”
The price of drugs “has come way down in the last couple of years. I suppose the HSE only wants to pay so much for drugs and more and more of them have come off patent so there was more competition out there.”
Does Conor ever think that we are all over-medicated?
“I probably don’t think so. From my point of view, my customers are not over medicated. I think medicine has proved itself to work for various conditions out there.”
Not surprisingly, he advocates taking a vaccination against Covid-19 when it’s rolled out here. “I wouldn’t have inside information on it, apart from what goes out into the public domain.”
Conor notices how Covid-19 has affected people mentally, quite apart from those who have actually contracted the virus.
“Life is tough for everybody. I think everyone has been affected by it. Life can’t go on from lockdown to lockdown, listening to the figures everyday of how many new cases and how many more deaths there are. We have to start living our lives again. It’s tough for people working from home. All the mask-wearing and the hand sanitisers, while essential, are hard on people.”
He adds that it has been particularly difficult on older people who tend to abide stringently by the rules.
Conor’s mother didn’t live to witness the rise of Dr Google with the search engine now being the go-to place whenever someone has an ache or some form of complaint. Self-diagnosis is not a good idea but as Conor says: “Who isn’t guilty of it?”
He says people worry about the side effects of medication.
“There are side effects to everything, unfortunately. I would tell people to just take the medication and see how they’re getting on. If you’re told you’re going to get a cough or be itchy from tablets, then subconsciously, you’ll develop that.
“And Google will always give the worst-case scenario. So people might go to A&E. But we’re here to say that we know what medication you’re on and not to worry. Or, in some cases, we will direct the person to their GP.”
While it might sound self-serving to say that sticking to the one pharmacy for your medication needs is best practice, Conor points out how important it really is.
“The odd time, a prescription comes in and you might notice something different about it. If we’re not happy about it, we’ll get onto the doctor (to see if there has been an error.) The patient is very thankful when we do that check.”
When Conor was studying pharmacy, there was no mention of the possibility of some kind of pandemic wreaking havoc on the world.
“It never entered my head that we would live in a pandemic. You read about pandemics in history but you never think it could happen in the modern world. It just shows you what can happen. To think that on December 1st last year, when the first case of Covid was discovered in Wuhan in China, we’d still be here battling it a year later.”
Conor loves coming to work and is grateful that he was able to keep his business open during lockdowns as pharmacies provide essential services.
“I really appreciate my job. Some days, it can be tough and you can be pulling your hair out, but you still battle away.”