Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

I fear for a profession whose main characteristic seems to be apathy. The NPA petition was a great success with 1.8 million signatures and clearly shows enormous public support for independent community pharmacy. Yet, it has all gone very quiet again, and it is vital that we keep the momentum going. However, it is also gratifying to see that so many people signed the petition on the government’s website – this all shows we have a strong collective voice.

I welcome the news that the Department of Health (DH) will take longer to consider whether to expand hub and spoke dispensing. I said in this column many months ago that I regarded hub and spoke as a red herring following the £170 million cut, detailed in the now infamous 17 December 2015 letter from Keith Ridge and Will Cavendish.

In my opinion, the financial model for hub and spoke is just not sustainable for the average independent pharmacy. However, a danger I do see is further development of organisations that hoover up electronic repeat prescriptions from the market, but do not necessarily provide the best care to patients. The consequence of this could be very significant for your pharmacy, and I urge you to be ultra-vigilant about this activity – you do not know what you have got until it’s gone.

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News of change is coming from all directions within healthcare at the moment, but it may not always be for the better, says community pharmacist Noel Wicks

Occasionally in this line of work you hear things and your first reaction is “that can’t possibly be true”. And I’m not talking about Brexit. Perhaps you are not quite sure if something you just heard is an exaggeration or if it’s an urban myth. Whichever it is, you think that someone, somewhere, has muddled their facts.

I had this experience only a few weeks ago, when someone told me that a CCG in England – in an attempt to cut costs – had informed GP practices not to prescribe things that could be bought over the counter. I laughed at first, but it quickly became apparent that the person imparting these “facts” was being deadly serious. I explained how ridiculous that would be, citing a long list of reasons why no one in their right mind would issue that sort of guidance. First and foremost it would represent a major policy change from the NHS’s mantra of free at the point of access. I wouldn’t imagine this going down well with the local population or their representatives in Westminster.

Second, it would put your average GP in an enormously difficult position in refusing to treat a patient. I’m not sure how their regulatory body would view this, but I would imagine that refusing to treat someone might be considered worse than treating them wrongly.

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A new type of pharmacist is now emerging from university, suggests Noel Wicks

Having just celebrated my 39th birthday, it is with some difficulty that I now look back and recall my time at university. I do remember how enjoyable it was and, in particular, I remember my first ever pharmacy practice lesson. This was the subject that most students were excited about doing because, unlike inorganic chemistry, people felt it most represented what they expected to be doing when they qualified.

Two things from that first lesson have stuck in my mind ever since. The first thing was the total luxury of having three hours to dispense six prescriptions. The second was the ejection of a classmate who thought it would be fine to rock up 10 minutes late without his lab coat. We learned a couple of important lessons that day: that our pharmacist teacher-practitioner didn’t take any prisoners, and that we were expected to think and, more importantly, behave like professionals. You’ll be glad to know, by the way, that the miscreant in question was allowed back into the next pharmacy practice session, which he made sure he was the first to arrive for.

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Mike Smith puts the world to rights...

These are challenging times, but there may be help out there. I could have used this headline in many of the articles I have written over recent years, but this time it seems particularly relevant.

These are really challenging times for community pharmacy and it is now clear that we have to change our approach to funding.

I have practised in community pharmacy for almost 50 years and have seen crises come and go. However, this crisis is clearly more significant than many I have seen before, but the fact remains that we do have to work with the DH to achieve these savings.

It is really encouraging that we now have one million signatures on the National Pharmacy Association petition, which Alliance Healthcare was pleased to help to distribute. The petition clearly demonstrates how important community pharmacies are to the patients and customers they serve. This is not just about the supply of medicines, prescription and OTC, and the provision of healthcare advice. Community pharmacy also provides a most important social function, as well as a plethora of services for which we are not paid. We need to raise awareness of these activities, which the DH appears to choose to ignore.

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How would a vote to leave the European Union be likely to affect community pharmacy? With the referendum vote later this week, pharmacy’s Claire Ward and Sigma Pharmaceutical’s Bhavin Shah look at the implications from a “remain” perspective.

As pharmacy grapples with the prospect of a six per cent budget cut, few are likely to have been thinking too hard about the referendum on EU membership. However, a cut of £170 million to the pharmacy budget may be just the start of closures, job losses and reduced pay in community pharmacy.

A vote to leave the European Union could deliver an even greater blow to independent pharmacy – and the wider healthcare sector – that few contractors are even discussing, let alone planning for.

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