What did you want to be when you were at school/growing up?
Growing up I didn’t have a career in mind but chemistry was my favourite subject. I particularly liked organic chemistry. I was fascinated by how carbon atoms bonded with other elements to form complex structures, long chains and benzene rings. My mum was pro-pharmacy, so she encouraged me to become a pharmacist. I went with the flow as it suited me.
Can you describe what you do in 1 sentence?
Hard to. Using clinical leadership, expert practice, service development, research, education and training to drive and influence change locally and strategically to ensure that older people get the best outcomes from taking medicines. What aspects I focus on and who I work with vary from week to week, which keeps my job fresh and interesting.
What qualities do you think you need to do your job well?
Vision, inspiration and curiosity to envisage what “good” looks like in the future, as well as passion and tenacity to mobilise others towards it.
Flexibility and creativity to work with complexities and uncertainties in patient care and to navigate complex systems to resolve intractable problems.
Self-awareness and humility to know that I don’t have all the answers and it takes collective expertise and resources to deliver sustainable change.
What has been your biggest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
Navigating the tightrope of staying true to myself while continuously adapting to various situations in my career. Over the years, I’ve worked out that I bring my best self to my work when I’m authentic.
I’ve got better at appreciating the external and internal influences at play, drawing on the entirety of my strengths and experiences as a whole person, and leaning on my support networks. Now I am more courageous about staying true to my values and purpose, allowing them to shape my attitudes and behaviours.
What are the main 3 factors that make you frustrated at work?
Micromanaging which stifles creativity and prevents individuals or teams from attaining their full potential on the job.
Work hierarchies and politics that hinder progress by placing needless hurdles in the path and creating bottlenecks.
“Tick box” exercises or tasks that value processes over people (patients and colleagues) and relationships.
What was your best career move?
Moving to primary care as a prescribing adviser in 1999 – it was an adventure and opened up exciting prospects for me.
What 3 factors make you skip into work? (What do you enjoy most about your current role?
Face-to-face consultations with patients (and their carers) to discuss and resolve medicines-related problems that negatively affect their wellbeing and quality of life.
Training, teaching, coaching and mentoring people to be their best. Planned and random opportunities to share my passion, inspire, ignite a fire and shift mindsets about delivering patient-centred care.
Working on initiatives together with a variety of people, teams, organisations, within and outside pharmacy, who are passionate about getting things right with medicines for older people. I enjoy the conversations, and I’m energised by the new insights, ideas and resources they bring.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever got from a patient or work colleague?
When managing difficult conversations or potential conflicts at work, with patients, colleagues, managers, always respond rather than react, because it’s rarely a personal attack and more likely that there is an agenda you do not know about yet.
Now I always try to first unearth that hidden agenda through building rapport and actively listening. Applying this advice has consistently averted full blown conflicts and led to favourable resolutions.
If you could go back in time and give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Get a good coach and mentor from day one.
Can you give three reasons for recommending your career to a young person?
Pharmacy is a fulfilling career in itself, but also a gateway to many other career pathways because many of the skills acquired are transferable. For example, problem-solving skills mean we can be successful in jobs that require inquiry, investigating problems, and applying logic and expertise to explore, identify and implement appropriate solutions.
The patient facing aspect of pharmacy is more exciting now that it requires dialogue, rather than just passing on therapeutic information. This increasingly requires application of advanced communication and interpersonal skills and a good understanding of human behaviours to support our patients to adhere to their treatments.
Prescribing a drug is the most frequent intervention in the NHS and so there are roles for pharmacists wherever medicines’ expertise is needed, from clinical trials, governance processes, academia, manufacturing and therapeutics to administration of the product.
If there was one thing you could change about your role or the physical or policy environment you work in, what would it be and why?
Too much time, effort and resources are spent by NHS organisations rewriting national guidelines (which have already had extensive expert input) to accommodate for local variations and nuances.
I would reduce this needless duplication and direct energies towards local implementation, focusing on supporting localities to translate national policies or guidelines into actions that are relevant to their population and to facilitate their delivery through adequate training, infrastructure and staffing.
What do you hope will be your legacy to your profession and colleagues?
I hope that aspects of my career will inspire, motivate and impact generations of pharmacists to deliver care that is fit for an ageing population and to be at the helm driving best use of medicines in the care of older people through clinical leadership at all stages of their career.
If you could be health secretary for the day what would you do?
Commission and fund community pharmacies to have a registered list of older patients for whom they coordinate the medicines-related aspects of their care. I believe this could significantly reduce unnecessary risks, improve outcomes, improve efficiencies and reduce medicines waste.
Is the thought of retirement a dream or a nightmare?
The thought of retirement is bliss. At the moment retirement for me means retiring from daily work, but I can see myself still doing those things I love about my job now and giving back to others from what I’ve learnt and experienced in my own career. Perhaps I will spend a few hours a week at a local pharmacy in a community hub, mentoring or coaching early career, aspiring consultant pharmacists or pharmacy leaders.
What do you do to relax/de-stress?
Cooking, shopping, singing, writing free style poetry, hanging out with my teenager, having too long WhatsApp conversations with my family and close friends.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Adding more pairs to my Dr Martens shoe collection – one can never have enough!
On a typical day, what do you eat for lunch, where and how long is your break?
Something that has meat or chicken in it. I don’t mind if it’s in a sandwich, salad, jacket potato, or with rice or chips. And a can of cold Pepsi max or Ribena. Sadly, I eat sitting at my desk in the office or at home. Lunch breaks tend to last 10 to 20 minutes, slightly longer if I have to go out to get the food.
Your most treasured possession and why?
Photographs – my treasure store of happy memories …
Lelly graduated from the University of Benin, Nigeria with a degree in pharmacy in 1987 and registered as a UK Pharmacist in 1993. She worked at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, in south-west London and Boots, before joining the NHS in 1999 as a prescribing adviser at Lambeth Primary Care Group (later Lambeth Primary Care Trust). She qualified as an independent non-medical prescriber in 2007 and became the first community-based consultant pharmacist in 2008.
She left Lambeth in 2011 for a post as consultant pharmacist, care of older people at Guys and St Thomas NHS Trust in London, but is currently seconded to South East London (SEL) Integrated Care System (ICS) for 18 months to lead the implementation of the National Overprescribing Review (NOR).
On top of this, Lelly has had a national role as a subject matter expert at NHS Specialist Pharmacy Services since 2003. She has had several previous regional roles, including leading the London older peoples’ medicines project in 2003 for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS London’s dementia prescribing and care project in 2011.
Lelly was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 2014, PrescQIPP shared decision-making award in 2014, Clinical Pharmacy Congress excellence in clinical leadership award in 2017, and the Primary Care Pharmacists Association outstanding contribution to primary care pharmacy award in 2022. She is currently chair of the Primary Care Pharmacists Association Clinical Specialists’ Group and a member of the NHS England’s NOR implementation group.