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Editor’s view: Read between the lines

A recent speech from England's chief pharmacist was noteworthy for what he said – and what he didn't

England’s chief pharmacist David Webb covered a lot of ground in his virtual address to this year’s Sigma conference, touching on upskilling, role retention and the need for community pharmacies to work with new commissioning structures. But his talk was just as significant for what he didn’t say, writes P3pharmacy editor Arthur Walsh

Although Webb euphemistically acknowledged that this is a time of “challenging workforce preferences”, his comments did not reflect the widespread feeling within the sector that the funding available to general practice via the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme gives it an unfair hand when it comes to recruitment.

Instead, he set businesses a task: “Employers need to make sure they are training enough pharmacists to meet their own needs... [they need to] listen to employees, understand their preferences and, as a result, offer attractive careers.”

Now, I am the first to say that pharmacy’s recruitment challenges are not always as clear cut as the trade bodies suggest, and that factors like job satisfaction and working conditions have also contributed to some extent. Nonetheless, Webb’s comments struck me as far too pat. There are many contractors going above and beyond to do all that he said and still finding it impossible to recruit. 

Perhaps the most glaring omission from Webb’s speech was Pharmacy First. He had much to say about clinical services and changing public perceptions, but nothing about allowing patients in England to benefit from a commissioned minor ailments service like their neighbours in Scotland and Wales.

Remember, Pharmacy First is still the talking point for pharmacy negotiators – and politicians seem to love the idea, or at least the soundbite opportunities it offers. In her Sigma address, PSNC chief Janet Morrison said it is “flavour of the month” with Government officials.

But NHS England still seems indifferent. Presumably, it believes that the CPCS and its jumping-through-hoops ethos ticks all the same boxes. And although no one wants to come out and say it, in all likelihood, officials simply don’t want to pay for Pharmacy First. Morrison says her team’s fully costed pitch for the service was rebuffed.

I don’t wish to do Webb a disservice. He also referred to operational efficiencies, skill mix and NHS-funded training, all of which will be vital in the necessary evolution of pharmacy. But for some, it will look as though policymakers just aren’t listening.

Stress levels in pharmacy passed the point of unsustainability some time ago, as the recent PSNC announcement on halting new services demonstrates. It’s vital to maintain lobbying pressure for new funding through initiatives like the Save Our Pharmacy Campaign, which launched in March. P3pharmacy publisher CIG is distributing posters to every pharmacy in the country; I urge you to place it in your window to help mobilise public support.

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