The first cut is the deepest

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The first cut is the deepest

Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

Many of you will remember this great Rod Stewart song. I even used it as the theme of my presentation at the recent Sigma annual conference in Jamaica in February, which was excellent, may I add.

The reason that the title of this renowned song is so apt in our industry is because we must ensure that the first cut is the only cut. I fear that the £170 million fee cut for pharmacies in England won’t be the only one, as there are already rumours of far deeper cuts to come.

The way we oppose further cuts is to ensure that our patients and customers raise their concerns about the proposed closures and the impact that this will have on their lives. In essence, we need public opinion on our side.

Community pharmacy provides much more than just the supply of NHS medicines. The loss of services such as free collection and delivery, monitored dosage systems (MDS), and the unpaid social function that we all perform on a daily basis would be disastrous. As pharmacists, we all know this, but does anybody else?

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) response to the Department of Health paper is well-reasoned. However, I have to say that in the face of pharmacy minister Alistair Burt’s statements of “no further funding for services” and “reduction of the establishment payment”, they are little more than aspirational.

I have to add that I view the hub and spoke suggestion put forward by England's chief pharmaceutical officer, Dr Keith Ridge, as a red herring and think that it will not work for most independent pharmacies.

I returned from the Sigma conference with one very positive course of action in mind – the National Pharmacy Association initiative to mobilise patient concerns. This has my full support and I have been doing all I can personally to drive it forward. We have distributed the NPA literature, and I urge you all to take up the campaign.

The theme of my presentation at the conference was intentional. I used the same slides from two years ago, to demonstrate that little has changed. There is not one single person or body at fault here – we all must accept some of the blame. I have long advocated that the pharmacy profession needs to change, but over the years we have exhausted all other options and remained the same to our detriment – we are out of options, and now is the time for change.

The key to our future lies, I believe, in motivating our patients to understand the consequences of the loss of their local community pharmacy.

It was uplifting to see Graham Phillips, pharmacist and managing director of Manor Pharmacy Group, on BBC Breakfast recently and to hear what his patients had to say. I’d say that three-minute slot, in which Graham and his customers talked about the adverse effects of the pharmacy funding cuts to community pharmacies, will do more than months of conversation between our representative bodies.

It would be great to see more of this please – getting involved and taking a hands-on approach can truly make a difference. However, a word of warning – scaremongering and whingeing will simply not work.

We must: ô€€€

  • Ensure the pharmacy network is not destroyed by this sledgehammer approach to funding ô€€€
  • All work together – multiples and independents. Providing free services just to grow market share must stop. We will all have to start charging for these services in the future ô€€€
  • Ensure that our patients make their feelings known about the impact that closures and loss of services will have on their lives ô€€€
  • Make ourselves heard and utilise the media more effectively, engaging more with local TV, news and social media.

It really is now or never.

It really is now or never.

Mike Smith is chairman of Alliance Healthcare, mike.h.smith@alliance-healthcare.co.uk

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