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Front Desk

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By Rob Darracott

It’s a regular quiz question: which book starts “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”? Answer: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. But the rest of what is actually a much longer first sentence has more to say about the state we’re in at the start of 2022 than that simple binary opening.

It continues: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” There are another 49 words, but I haven’t got all day. 

The age of wisdom, the age of foolishness. The creation of the vaccine and, closer to home, the ingenuity of community pharmacy teams who have scaled up vaccination centres and delivered week in, week out have surely put to bed the notion that we’ve had enough of experts. On the flipside, on-off lockdowns, mixed messaging about masks and social distancing. Topping it all has to be the snail’s pace roll out of the Covid vaccine to the world, leaving most of it a veritable perfect petri dish for the continued evolution of the virus. 

The epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity. In large parts of the US, and in Trafalgar Square on occasion, those who don’t want facts to get in the way of their opinions hold sway. Covid is a hoax. Masks don’t work. Vaccines contain microchips. As for gobsmacking, go no further than those parties at Number Ten. It didn’t happen. If it did, no rules were broken. It did happen, but it was a business meeting. Do you think I came down with the last shower?

The season of Light, the season of Darkness. A perfect metaphor for the mental health impact of the last two years. The caution of Professor Whitty has scared too many into their homes for months on end, while the natural boosterism of Mr Johnson has given the ‘freedom fighters’ the green light to give not a toss about those not similarly inclined. 

The spring of hope, the winter of despair. Community pharmacy’s belated recognition for outstanding service in the Covid trenches has fostered a belief that this could be the start of better to come. Let’s hope the recent news of a new contract in Wales augurs well for England. As for the challenges ahead, Outsider nails it, so I don’t have to. 

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us. There’s a new contract negotiation in England just around the corner and primary care will be further reshaped by integrated care systems; if there’s any money left over, social care will at last get some time and attention. But community pharmacists are smart enough to be concerned that they will be at the back of a long line, as usual, when it comes to funding real change, and that raised profile will count for nothing.  

Having opened his novel with a Victoria zinger, Dickens was smart enough to close it with one too. The first half is a perfect summary of community pharmacy’s 2020-21: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”

I’d quote the rest, but it’s a massive spoiler. 

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Front Desk