Charting a course in uncertain times

By Ade Williams  

“Where are we now? Even if we know where we want to get to, it is difficult to plan our journey if we don’t have a clear idea of where we now are.” For years I kept a folder of business articles and comments by the late Kirit Patel MBE, a giant of our profession who demonstrated brilliance and business acumen. This question from one of those articles reflects my thoughts as I try to plan a way ahead for our business.

In his recent blog ‘Leading through uncertain times’ Alastair Dryburgh, author of the bestseller Everything you know about Business is Wrong concludes: “remember the point of change is that everything remains the same”. I know I’m not alone in finding this confusing and untenable in our current situation. We need change now.

Community pharmacy, admired by many, has been buffeted by adversity. Every day we live with the pressures of stock shortages, price fluctuations, and in my case the reality that the ongoing Brexit commentary directly affects the morale of my EU colleagues, whose life and future in the UK is very unsettled.

I see the impact in my community, with its areas of high social deprivation, as changes to welfare payments seem to be pulling the rug from underneath the feet of some of our most vulnerable patients.  I dread the introduction of Universal Credit. The peril of those around us puts the impact of the funding cuts in perspective, but it’s tough going, it really is.

Even the professional fulfilment that comes from the annual NHS flu vaccinations has been replaced this year by defending my reputation as a reliable health provider to patients as the much-heralded over 65 flu vaccine is available from my local GP colleagues, but not from me. They have their stock, while we have none.

My team and I have followed the unfolding drama of the announcement and imposition of the funding cuts. The legal wrangling, closure warnings, arguments made, hope deferred and the reality of impact. Even as the dust settles we know the fight goes on. Remaining part of the future plans of the NHS matters now more than ever.

I go back to Dryburgh’s blog. Its essence, encapsulated in that last sentence, is that instead of talking about change, we should talk about the benefits of change. It attempts to describe how to successfully make a case for change in uncertain times. 

I’m aware that we as a team need to respond and plan ahead.  So as I prepare for our annual team appraisals, here’s my thoughts on the words he suggests you use.

Sustainability - To sustain our priority of delivering excellent patient care, we all need to continually review what we do and question if it’s still the best way. Think skill mix, adopting technology, cost-effectiveness and increasing productivity. I see us revisiting our pharmacy’s vision. Do our daily goals match up with our priorities? Do our processes deliver the outcomes that now define value, quality being the new watchword?

Longevity - My colleagues and I enjoy our work most days. We also know our patients value the service we provide. We do, however, have two icebergs to navigate. We need to ensure our decisions today position us to survive as care models evolve. Those models must harness rather than threaten our role. We need to adapt our response to our patients’ changing preferences. Nostalgia will not secure our future as a business; research and innovation are the matchmakers here.

Continuity – If sustainability relates to our alignment with quality, and longevity is defined by our response to change, then consistency is how we ensure continuity. In a market-led health economy, where competition is not only other community pharmacies, continual delivery of high quality is expected by commissioners, regulators and most definitely our patients. We need a renewed focus on evidence gathering and the improvements it drives. To keep doing, we must continue to demonstrate why we are the best people to deliver. 

Securing the future – Individuals can make decisions and action them relatively quickly. Government policies take a while to form and longer still for their impact to be fully experienced. But just as good businesses have succession planning, community pharmacy cannot keep revisiting the contentious points that have failed in the past. We have had two years of not being partners in the policy-shaping process of the NHS. 

If we are to be unshackled and appropriately funded to tackle the priorities of prevention, reducing health inequalities and improving outcomes, everyone in community pharmacy has a part to play.

Our team appraisals are going well. I think because it makes sense to do them. The benefits of making changes is never more welcome than when it’s apparent to all that so much is going wrong. Together we can get it right, if we agree. I hope that same resolve runs across the sector.

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