The need to demonstrate the quality of what pharmacy does to the NHS and others is here to stay, says Noel Wicks 

Quality, a small but very powerful word – its definition is “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind”. And it represents a challenge for pharmacy. Can we demonstrate to the outside world, and in particular to the NHS, that community pharmacy services can be measured against other similar things.

This doesn’t just mean comparisons to each other’s performance, but rather the broader healthcare landscape that we are increasingly becoming integrated into. But I have no doubt in my mind that we can and we will achieve this. We will first have to acclimatise ourselves to this greater degree of oversight and control.

This is something that may make pharmacists feel uncomfortable.

In particular, we aren’t used to being measured against others. So I suspect that it’s only natural that people aren’t delighted at the prospect of having a Quality Payment introduced as part of their contract.

Pharmacy funding in England is now based on meeting certain minimum criteria and then demonstrating quality-enhancing activities that earn points. These points then translate into a payment. In Scotland we have Quality Improvement Payments that also foster quality and safety activities within the pharmacy and closer partnership working outside of the pharmacy.

Whatever the format of the funding, it’s clear that community pharmacy is being drawn closer into the NHS and the values to which it aspires. This may be new territory for pharmacy, but it’s not for the other professions, some of whom have had quality and their ability to demonstrate it as a very substantial part of their contractual framework for a long time.

It’s not just the NHS that’s looking for quality. We also see this focus in our GPhC inspections, for example. Reflecting on our practice compared to others and continually striving to improve it is an important part of the inspection criteria. And of course, this isn’t in place because pharmacy doesn’t do this, but rather is a reflection of the times.

While pharmacists may feel vulnerable to this level of public scrutiny and control, we really shouldn’t. Community pharmacy has quality at its core, and if anything it’s a good thing that we are being given the opportunity to demonstrate this.

What pharmacies are being asked to do to demonstrate quality are probably bite-sized introductions, with more to come in the future. Once you are over the initial anxiety of needing to do them, you will see they are actually simple and straightforward. What’s involved is not onerous, and when you look into the detail these are actually useful and worthwhile tasks.

This approach is not likely to go away anytime soon, and if anything will serve as building blocks for further work in the years ahead. We should look at them not as another inconvenience, but rather as a structured and supported way of improving your pharmacy and ultimately your business.

At the end of the day, if we aren’t striving for quality in our pharmacies then we may as well pack up and go home!

Pharmacists often work in isolation, and we simply aren't used to having someone checking up on us or looking over our shoulder



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