What will pharmacy look like for future generations of pharmacists, asks Mike Smith?

I recently attended the Portsmouth School of Pharmacy to talk about opportunities for a career in community pharmacy.

I always enjoy going to these events, attended by more than 100 third-year students who are all so full of enthusiasm and extremely attentive. They are very highly qualified, far more so than pharmacists of my generation, and I told the keen audience that I was sure that the future of our profession is safe in their hands. However, this raises a question in my mind: is their future safe in our hands?

It is clear that there will be a shortage of pre-registration places this year and that many students may struggle to find a placement.

This is a sad state of affairs, which gives me cause for concern. In these times of falling margins I can understand that the number of such places may fall and this, coupled with the increasing number of graduates, means that we may see increasing levels of unemployment in the UK – as has been experienced by pharmacists in Spain.

There is a need for clear strategic thinking about the future number of student places and I have to ask whether we actually do need any more schools of pharmacy.

It is great to see that pharmacy is at last being recognised as an under-utilised resource by the NHS. What has changed?

The facts are simple: the NHS can no longer support the demand for out-of-hours services, currently characterised by full GP surgeries and A&E departments blocked with minor ailment queries.

So, to repeat – what has changed? What has changed is that the NHS now needs us and, as pharmacists, we are more than equal to the task. So, I reiterate what I said last month – we must step up to the plate, and please, no more scandals.

It is also clear that there will never be a better opportunity to gain access to patient records, so let’s push ahead.

One of the students last week asked me if the introduction of Electronic Prescription Services meant that we would be paid more promptly. Just a thought... we should certainly raise this again in the run-up to the next election and remember the NHS now realises that it needs us.

I was encouraged to hear that Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England (PHE), sees pharmacy as a critical player in public health missions. PHE wants to be ‘pharmacy’s champion and friend’.

I quote Professor Fenton again: ‘PHE intends to put its time and money where its mouth is.’ These are fine words but, as I have said before, let us see some action before we get too excited. We really need to escalate this momentum to national level to ensure the commissioning of services that will provide pharmacy with sustainable income streams.

I see a danger that some pharmacies will provide these services free of charge in the lemming-like desire to grow market share. We must never fall into this trap again. Many of our colleagues in mainland Europe have done so and once a service is provided free of charge be sure you will never be paid for it.

There is a need for clear strategic thinking about the future number of student places and I have to ask whether we do need any more schools of pharmacy

I still have concerns about the pharmacy nomination process associated with EPS. GPs are confused about it, patients are confused about it and I fear that some pharmacists are confused about it. It is important that you stay on your toes to ensure that your repeat prescription business is not eroded.

I will have spoken at the Sigma convention in Mexico by the time this is published. My theme is ‘independents’ strategy for future survival’, a topic that you will all know is very dear to my heart.

I will report back next time and, in addition to the company of so many pharmacists, I am really looking forward to escaping this incessant rain.

Enjoy your pharmacy!

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

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