Thursday 21 February 2019

A prescription to take control of your health

A Dublin-based pharmacist has launched a weight-loss clinic that offers customers a low-cost solution for shedding those pounds

Oonagh O'Hagan, Managing Director of Meaghers Pharmacy Group
Oonagh O'Hagan, Managing Director of Meaghers Pharmacy Group
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Pharmacist Oonagh O'Hagan noticed a new Irish consumer emerging during the recession. They were as health-conscious as they were money-conscious; their focus was on prevention rather than cure and their first port of call was often their local pharmacy.

"During the recession a lot of customers couldn't afford to visit their GP," explains Oonagh, who is the owner and MD of Meaghers Pharmacy Group.

"What also happened is that people didn't want to get sick in the first place," she continues. "They were saying 'give me something to make sure I don't get sick as I can't afford to take time off work to keep my job'."

Oonagh and her team soon realised that new-generation customers were proactive about their health. They also realised that they were dispensing advice for which customers had previously only visited their GP.

However, there was one area where their qualifications were lacking. "We quickly established that we didn't have the expertise when it comes to nutrition," she says. "We could see straight away that we needed to collaborate with whoever were the experts in this field."

Oonagh and her team knew they didn't want anything "faddy" or based on disputable science; neither did they want to get behind anything radical or overly regimented. "We wanted something that would allow people to change their everyday habits," she explains.

After exploring the nutrition industry in Ireland, they discovered Glenville Nutrition, which is headed up by Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD, a bestselling health author and former chair of the Food and Health Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine. Together, they set about designing a programme that isn't for weight loss per se. It's for people who want to lose weight in order to become healthier.

Oonagh was also eager to meet the needs of customers who are predisposed to certain illnesses. "They might have diabetes or heart problems in their family and they want to take control of their destiny: We also have a big cohort of customers who are pre-diabetic. They are taking metformin to control their blood sugars and, if they don't get it under control, they will have to go on insulin."

Accordingly, the Meaghers Pharmacy Healthy Eating Programme begins with a suite of tests by their trained pharmacists. "We check people's cholesterol, blood pressure and pulse rate. If they are worried about diabetes, we check their blood sugar." They also measure weight, body fat and BMI.

The 12-week programme is based on accountability. It includes weekly measurements in the Baggot Street or Ranelagh Village Meagher's outlets, alongside weekly meal plans, recipes and advice on portion sizes, food labels and eating mindfully from Glenville Nutrition.

"Weekly food diaries are reviewed by Glenville Nutrition and the nutritional advice is tailored to the patient," adds Oonagh.

At the launch last month they noted "staggeringly unhealthy" cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels among programme participants. On the plus side, results from the Healthy Eating plan already look promising. This unique collaboration coincides with the evolving roles of pharmacists. "Pharmacists are much more than a dispensary," says Oonagh, who studied pharmacy in Trinity College and bought Meaghers on Baggot Street, where she had previously interned, in 2001. (She kept the name to preserve its heritage, and has since added five more pharmacies to the group.)

"We have so much knowledge but we never use our skills. We are the experts when it comes to medicine. We are much more qualified than a doctor in this regard, but not when it comes to anatomy obviously.

"But we need to be able to use our skills. We're the most accessible healthcare providers. We're open the longest hours.

"We don't charge for our services. We're capable of so much more and we really need to reposition ourselves as credible healthcare providers."

Signing up

The Meaghers Pharmacy Healthy Eating Programme costs €30 per week, which includes three ­nutritionist ­coaching sessions, weekly support and measurements and all blood tests.

Sign-up online at ­Alternatively, call Glenville ­Nutrition at 01 4020777 or drop into Meaghers ­Pharmacy on Baggot Street or Ranelagh Village where a staff member will help with the online sign-up process.

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