There are signs of a financial upturn but pharmacy continues to face challenges from the recession and GPhC grading, says Mike Smith

There are some signs that we may be moving out of the recession. Whether or not this is political propaganda remains to be seen (I really am an old cynic these days), but it appears there are signs of an upturn. This is good news for us all, but pharmacy continues to face significant challenges.

I have just returned from the Alphega Pharmacy conference in the Cotswolds. It was an excellent event attended by 240 delegates – the largest held so far and the number grows each year.

There are now 1,000 Alphega members in the UK. This reflects not only the expertise in house at Alphega Pharmacy, but also the real commitment of its pharmacist members.

The regional awards, which were presented at the event, demonstrated pharmacy practice of the highest standard. We must make our paymasters aware of our achievements. Pharmacy offers so much to the communities we serve and we deserve fair remuneration and recognition.

These are challenging times, but as the headline shows, I wish to focus on the positive.

It is clear that we have to find solutions to our challenges. One such solution is membership of a virtual network such as Alphega Pharmacy, which offers the support and infrastructure enjoyed by multiple companies while at the same time allowing you to maintain your independent status.

My conversations with delegates confirm they benefit from the support – not only financially, but also in the provision of service of the highest quality.

There was an excellent presentation from Mark Voce, head of inspections at GPhC. It is clear the inspections will be thorough, but there is also a signal that inspectors will be supportive and helpful. The case for unannounced visits is beyond challenge and I support this. Pharmacies must always operate to high standards, not just when the inspector arrives.

However, I have concern over the grading system and this should be challenged. We learnt that from 30 inspections only one was good and the rest satisfactory. I can’t accept that all the others fell below this standard.

It does appear that there are signs of an upturn. This is good news for us all, but pharmacy continues to face significant challenges

My view is that a fairer system needs to be put in place for when the gradings are made available for the public to see – surely a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ is the best acid test with ‘this pharmacy meets the required standard’ all that is needed in the published report. In the event of failure, the pharmacy would be required to produce a clear plan of action. I would like your views on his, and it is important that you make them known in the pharmacy publications too.

Despite this, what really encourages me about both the Alphega Pharmacy network and the new GPhC inspections is that they will raise the standards of pharmacy practice.

Sadly, this is long overdue in the case of some pharmacies.

I also had an interesting conversation about the Pharmacy Early Payment Scheme (PEPS) at the conference and I was surprised to find that some pharmacists were unaware of it. Cash flow is more critical than ever so visit the NHS website to learn more about the scheme (www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/3908.aspx).

It could bring your payment date forward by as much as 23 days at very low interest.

It is good news that we can reclaim the £2,000 employment allowance from HMRC following wide a campaign. It seems that you can change some things! But this has been undermined by the strange decision that we can no longer reclaim statutory sick pay from monthly national insurance contribution.

The DWP has explained this will help employers save £70 million a year by cutting the time employees spend off work by ‘20 to 40 per cent’. I am not convinced by this.

Yet again, the powers that be give with one hand and then take away with another.

But it’s time for some optimism, and do not forget to take time out to enjoy your leisure time. Work is only a means to an end.

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

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