Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

I have long-argued that community pharmacy needs to act as a unified profession and work more closely with the Department of Health (DH) to help them achieve NHS savings. I am disappointed that the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is to withdraw support for Pharmacy Voice at the end of 2017.

I’m dumbstruck. I just wish that these guys would get around the same table – PSNC, RPS, NPA, PV or whatever you want to call it – to agree a common way forward that gives us credibility in the face of a DH which has no time for financial wrangling. When we should be working together, we seem to be moving even further apart.

The announcements that both the NPA and the PSNC are taking the DH to a judicial review also really concerns me. I can understand the frustration at the deadlock that we seem to have reached – but I fear for the future of relationships with a Department whose decisions are driven by Treasury, rather than by strategic thinking about the future role of community pharmacy.

I had some optimism when the Parliamentary Health Select Committee announced it was going to look at the specific issues around areas of deprivation, vulnerable ethnic minorities and older patients – groups who will clearly be hit hard by pharmacy closures.

The HSC would have given us an opportunity to discuss these issues and bring them before MPs. But now this meeting has been postponed because of the ongoing legal action, as it would have inhibited free and open discussion, and this is an own goal in my eyes.

Sue Sharpe of the PSNC has recently said “we’ve reached the end of the road with DH”, clearly signalling that relationships have deteoriated to such an extent that constructive negotiation is no longer possible. The problem is that we now have an entrenched position between two parties, and I’m afraid that there can only be one winner.

Compare this to Scotland, where the CPS has made so much progress with the minor ailments scheme and emergency supply. This is a product of new thinking between new minds in government and the CPS negotiating teams, and it’s a lesson for us all. I know that Scotland is different, with fewer pharmacies, but they work together and they have a Department that is open to new ideas that benefit patients and deliver cost-effective service. That’s not a bad formula.

In England, we now face months of stalemate while the legal process takes its course. The time has come for some real joined-up thinking about the future of community pharmacy, but confrontation is not the way forward.

We will have statements from the All Party Pharmacy Group (APPG), and discuss issues such as Pharmacy Forward and sustainability and transformation plans, but I can see no material outcomes from such diversions from the main problem.

The way forward is to play to our strengths. It is clear that we have a lot of support from our patients, and we need to publicise this to the full. We should be making the most of every opportunity and every contact to ensure that our message is heard loud and clear.

I don’t believe that negotiations will achieve anything in the short-term. It is public opinion that will lead to community pharmacy receiving the recognition that it deserves – and behind this should follow funding. We are very good at what we do, but we do need the DH to recognise this.

  • Mike Smith is chairman of Alliance Healthcare

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