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Editor’s view: Watching the paint dry

What is it about pharmacy and drawn-out policy talks? Still, sometimes it's worth paying attention

Meetings, consultations, recommendations, white papers, ‘blueprints’, more meetings, more recommendations... I don’t know about you, but I find that the cycles of policy change in our sector can be pretty tortuous.

The build-up to the Wright Review Steering Group (RSG) publishing its recommendations was damn near interminable – I started to glaze over around Year 2 of the process, I think. Is this a pharmacy thing? The pace over in doctor land always seems a bit more punchy, although that could be a rose-tinted view.

But sometimes, watching the paint dry is worthwhile. For instance, February saw the publication of a report from the UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership that could have big implications for how the sector makes sure its voice is heard. The report was commissioned last June by the UK’s four chief pharmacists amid concerns that some leadership bodies may have lost sense of their purpose.

It appears these concerns have been borne out. The report – which draws on a range of evidence, including pharmacy professionals’ own testimonials – says that leadership at present is “fragmented” and fails to “project a unified or harmonious leadership voice, and is unable to meet in full the needs of patients and the public”.

I was curious as to whether the report would support the RPS’s ambitions to bring pharmacy technicians under its leadership umbrella, which proved highly controversial when they were announced in the autumn. The commission doesn’t quite go along with this – it says the separate identities of the existing professional leadership bodies should be maintained.

However, it does propose that they come together under a transitional Pharmacy Leadership Council to “lead and represent the pharmacy professions effectively for the benefit of patients and local communities, working alongside other important stakeholders”.

Readers will have their own views on the commission’s recommendations, which also touch on scope of practice and professional education and training. Nonetheless, I expect many will agree that it is more important than ever that pharmacy presents a united front.

A recent CCA analysis indicates that over 700 pharmacies have permanently closed in England since 2015, with deprived communities hardest hit.

Evidence that LloydsPharmacy is selling branches across Britain after announcing the closure of 237 Sainbury’s stores will do little to quell concerns that the sector is suffering under the five-year contract. Debate is to be encouraged, but division can signal weakness to our interlocutors.

Also bubbling away in the background is the work of the Pharmacy Supervision Practice Group. This forum, comprised of seven organisations, aims to agree a united approach to enhance patient experience and help the community pharmacy workforce to “maximise role and professional skills” ahead of a Government consultation on modernising supervision legislation, expected later this year.

The group meets on a monthly basis, and even if its press releases to date are pretty tight-lipped, I would suggest you keep an eye on its progress. The paint can dry pretty fast when you’re not watching.

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