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Perhaps I knew it all along

By Outsider

Pharmacists have been diligently attending roadshows, workshops and events to hear what the great and good have to say about the five-year contract. Here’s a highly individual take. Imagine my excitement as I approached the venue, the pavement thronged with like-minded souls eager to listen, enraptured, to every word.

In reality, the event I attended was barely a quarter full. The expressions on the faces of people I saw walking in was less rapture, more mild annoyance. I looked around for the coffee, the pastries, any food or caffeine. Hmmm.

Simon Dukes took the floor and walked us through the background to the negotiations and the danger of not accepting the deal we were offered. The prospect of a new Prime Minister made it more time critical. It was beginning to sound like a spy thriller. Then the details of the contract, where he did his best to convince the audience that a bad deal is better than no deal. It would be funny if it wasn’t so painfully true.

Alastair Buxton had lots of impressive slides about the wonderful services we are going to deliver. Losing MURs is not a bad thing, because we’ll be able to do many more good things for less money. The new consultation service will bring us lots of extra work, without it being any extra work at all. How, asks the audience, bemused? Of course, the detail is in the service specifications, which were not available in time for the roadshow I attended. Don’t worry, we were told, it will all be OK. Believe.

HEE and CPPE will be providing lots of training which will mean that we’ll all be able to deliver pharmacist consultations and make emergency supplies. I didn’t know I couldn’t, but at least I’m learning something. This will make the NHS happy, we learn. It is less clear if it makes anyone in the room happy.

From where I’m sat at the back of the room they sound like very cross people who just got stung by a wasp.

We know it’s a bad deal that’s better than a no deal. We know it’s a lot more work that’s not a lot more work. Now we’re going to learn about the money. Flat cash settlement sounds like someone took a steamroller to a ‘no win, no fee’ lawyer promise, and after sitting through the slides for 15 minutes, I’m starting to wonder if I might have the basis of a claim. Nonetheless I learn that although it’s a bad deal, it’s really a good deal, because since the cuts we’ve been being underpaid and not receiving as much money as we should. If I understand this correctly, the flat cash settlement with no increase in funding will actually give us an increase in funding. I don’t know if I’m confused or stupid. Just believe, I tell myself.

Other people start speaking. They were here all along and now they start asking questions. At least I think they’re questions. From where I’m sat at the back of the room they sound like very cross people who just got stung by a wasp.

“There’s not enough time, I’m already too busy!”. This well rehearsed complaint is delivered with some panache. I wait for the response, but the rebuttal is the usual one. It’s all about skill mix apparently. I’m tempted to ask if that’s a baking reference, but I choose to wait.

“You say about skill mix, but my costs have gone up, pension, living wage…”.  The list was longer but you get the picture. Staff are expensive and they might have to sell their Aston Martin. At least I think that was the point. How will they get out of this one, I wonder? Cost increases are real and flat cash, is after all flat. How silly I am. I forgot that the bad deal is a pay rise, as we’ll actually receive all of the £2.592bn. Why we weren’t receiving this I can’t remember.

“Do we need training for the CPCS?” My ears prick up. The answer is no. “But why all the training if we don’t need it?” Ah, we’re pharmacists, so we don’t need the training, but we will want to do the training to be really good at delivering the service. “Should we wait for the training before we sign up?” No, because there will only be a limited number of training places available between now and March. But then there’ll be unlimited training, for everyone. I start to imagine CPPE running one of those slightly depressing all you can eat buffets, with indistinguishable trays of grey food.

“You told us all this in 2005!”  Killer blow, this one. What will they say to this, I wonder. Yup, they say, we did. And we didn’t deliver, and neither did you. We must do better this time. Believe.

Perhaps I did learn something. Perhaps I knew it all along.

Outsider is a community pharmacist

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