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Pharmacy is a great brand

Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

I have attended several meetings and debates in the past few weeks about the value of brands, and this has made me think a lot about the community pharmacy brand. I think that now is the time to consider how to promote our brand, which has enormous value and is widely trusted by our patients, customers and fellow healthcare professionals. Pharmacy is a great brand and being a pharmacist is a great job.

Recently, I read a survey about the professional groups that the general public trusts the most. Firemen came at the top of this list, followed by airline pilots and then pharmacists. Another survey of the public’s view of health professionals I have seen showed similar results, with pharmacists the second most trusted after nurses. I am sure that there are many other surveys with different outcomes, but one thing is clear – that pharmacists are consistently in the top five.

For many months now, I have discussed the challenges facing community pharmacy, so I’ll limit my comments this time. Then I think it is time to get bullish and optimistic about the future for our proud and trusted profession.

So, first the downside...

have continued reservations about the appeals against the judicial reviews over the pharmacy funding cuts in England. I hope I am wrong, but I can see only one outcome, of further damage to our relationship with our paymaster, the Department of Health, and increasing month-on-month pressure on cash flows. 

Added to this is the news that CCGs are scrapping pharmacy repeat schemes, while Keith Ridge is suggesting the need for increased prescription durations to save time and money. There is also an increase in remote dispensing – just look at the advertising on the TV. I urge you all to protect your repeat patients.

Scarily, at a recent European meeting in Berlin, I learnt of a pharmacy company in Germany that offers remote dispensing via a TV link and dispensing machine, in former pharmacy premises that had closed down. No pharmacist needs to be present, and they will even offer discounts to patients using the service.

Now the upside...

Last year’s NPA petition clearly demonstrated that community pharmacy has enormous public support. Pharmacy is a well-known and trusted brand. We have to promote this now, when it is clear that we can only expect further financial attrition from the Department of Health and loss of dispensing to online practices. We really need to promote the profession and ensure that our new chief executive – whoever he or she may be – has a strong background in public relations. I use the term chief executive in the singular, for there can be only one, with one voice and one representative body.

We know we are very good at what we do, and our patients know that we are very good at what we do, but sadly our paymasters don’t seem to. Our colleagues in Europe have the same issues with their policy makers and this is unlikely to change.

What we can do is raise public awareness of this by being the very best at what we do. The opportunity offered in the run-up to the election was wasted by our representatives (I saw nothing), and as a European colleague said to me just last week, only voters influence MPs.

I was delighted recently to receive a letter from ongoing RPS president Martin Astbury congratulating me on 50 years on the RPS register. Boy, that went quickly, but I remain as committed to our profession as I was in July 1967. I have recently had first-hand experience of the NHS as my dear wife Rosie has been ill. She is on the mend now, thank goodness, and I cannot speak highly enough of the attention she received in our local hospital. It is clear from conversations with the doctors and nurses that the financial pressures are enormous, so we should think about this when stamping our feet.

In conclusion, I cannot close without paying tribute to Peter Dodd, who passed away in June. Peter was chief executive at UniChem from 1971 until 1990, and took the struggling co-operative of community pharmacists to plc status in the 20 years on his watch through tremendous leadership, innovative thinking and investment. Pharmacists of my generation owe Peter a lot. He was a great man.

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

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