Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

Community pharmacy continues to find itself in a state of limbo until the outcome of the judicial reviews is known. I fear that, whatever the outcome, any action may now also be lost in the brouhaha leading up to the snap election in June.

On the positive side, I think that the only time we may find a friend is in the run up to a general election. Your local MP will be more sympathetic to your cause in the next six weeks than at any other time – and we should make our voices heard. I hope our pharmacy leaders also have a plan in place to lobby at the highest level. If not, they are letting us down again.

I read with some despair that the partly-redacted document from the Department of Health official to Jeremy Hunt included a list of the top 10 postcode areas with the highest projected average decrease in remuneration in 2017-18 – and that he was told that community pharmacy is a steady earner. This flies in the face of the statement that “23 of the 187 pharmacies in the Birmingham postcode area will suffer a reduction in remuneration exceeding 20 per cent – but the majority of these are located in close proximity to one another so that patient access is unlikely to be negatively impacted for most of the population”. So that’s OK then?

I speak to community pharmacists on a regular basis and it’s clear that the savage cuts in England are really beginning to bite, with a reduction in staffing levels one of the first consequences. Let us think about this. Less staff leads to increased pressure on remaining staff, which leads to more sickness and pressure, which will result in reduction in service, and, dare I say it, more potential for errors.

At a recent London conference, the chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge mentioned community pharmacy only once in his speech – and then berated us for only having four pharmacies rated excellent out of 8,000 GPhC inspections. It is clear that Mr Ridge lacks an understanding of community pharmacy in England, and with his background in hospital pharmacy and IT, I guess that this is understandable. When I see the progress made by pharmacists with his opposite numbers in Scotland and Wales I must question his position. I am enraged by the GPhC finding that only four of 8,000 pharmacies inspected were “excellent”. This is nonsense: I know of more than four excellent community pharmacies in my part of Devon alone.

Along with over 100 delegates, ranging from first years through to newly-qualified students, I attended the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) conference in Durham last month. The debates were, as ever, of a very high standard and demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues affecting our profession. I gave an insight into opportunities and challenges, assisted by ex-BPSA president Noel Wicks. Noel features in a video I showed to the students of him working in his first pharmacy, which he opened shortly after graduation. Ten years later, he now has 22 pharmacies in Scotland. I also facilitated a Q&A session featuring a panel of four eminent pharmacists, with the questions ranging from the future of pharmacy to working in GP surgeries.

I am always very impressed by these young people – they are the future of our profession.

I also recently met Diane Leicester-Hallam, chief executive of Pharmacist Support. They are seeing a steady increase in the number of pharmacists contacting them, and I fear that this may increase even further in the current climate. For more information, visit: pharmacistsupport.org.

We are under the cosh at the moment, but we will keep calm and carry on!

  • Mike Smith is chairman of Alliance Healthcare

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