Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

I read with interest the article in last month’s issue of P3 about the government’s aim to change the law by next October to allow independents to make use of centralised dispensing. As is to be expected, community pharmacy views on the option are “cautious”. I personally share that view and believe there is still work to be done before it could be implemented across the sector. This includes a detailed assessment of the logistical challenges, and cost and safety considerations associated with implementation. Most importantly, we must be absolutely certain that it doesn’t lead to an increased risk of dispensing errors.

The introduction of the European Union Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) in 2019 will further complicate matters. Will we be required to carry out a final check (or scan) at the point of delivery to the patient? And if, as expected, pharmacy itself is required to provide and pay for the kit to do this scanning, then this will significantly skew the financial model by adding cost to the process.

Our financial model is already under great strain. The pharmacy minister Alistair Burt and chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge failed to bring any Christmas cheer with their announcement that pharmacies in England will face a cut of £170 million in next year’s remuneration.

The sector has proved to be pretty resilient in the past, but there is a breaking point and we are drawing ever closer to it. It will ultimately lead to closures by financial attrition. The closures will not be of the larger, high-volume pharmacies, but in many cases those small essential independent pharmacies that provide such a vital health and social care service to the communities they serve. This is such nonsense when, in recent years, the 100-hour exemption led to the opening of an additional 700 pharmacies, that, in many cases, were unprofitable.

The whole affair demonstrates a complete lack of strategic planning on the future of community pharmacy (especially in England) – and our negotiating body has been party to this (albeit unwillingly). The fact is, pharmacy provides such a valuable service to the patients we serve. I continue to be bemused by the failure of our professional bodies to sing from the same hymn sheet. It is clear that this year our profession will be under ever increasing financial pressure and such divisive statements are wholly unhelpful. In fact, they play directly into the hands of our paymasters at the NHS. Why bother to divide and rule when we can do it ourselves? Please get it together, guys.

On a more positive note, it was very good to hear Neal Patel of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society on the BBC last month, giving his professional viewpoint on the very dangerous weight loss drug DNP, which sadly led to the death of student Eloise Parry last year. There is a plethora of perilous and counterfeit products available both on the market and online. It is our duty as a profession to highlight the dangers of such products – well done, Neal.

It was also great to see pharmacist Fin McCaul on the BBC Breakfast television show explaining the situation around the mode of action of ibuprofen, following the issues in Australia surrounding claims for a branded product. This is further excellent publicity for pharmacy – well done to you too, Fin. We need more of this excellent PR for pharmacy please.

I wish you all a successful 2016 and urge you to ensure that cash flow forecasts allow you to face the challenges ahead. Good luck!

Mike Smith is chairman of Alliance Healthcare, mike.h.smith@alliance-healthcare.co.uk

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