Mike Smith puts the world to rights...

Silence always makes me nervous. The lack of any statement from the Department of Health (DH) was beginning to be of concern. But then, briefly, we had some good news. Pharmacy minister David Mowat announced at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society conference that the cuts would not be implemented in October, as originally planned, to make sure the DH makes the “correct decision”.

The PSNC is now in negotiations with the DH on a funding package with a rushed timetable of just a few weeks. I have said before that I consider the draconian measure proposed in the DH’s December letter suggested a lack of reasoned thinking and strategic planning. That said, this is no time for complacency. We still have an opportunity for informed debate about the future of community pharmacy.

Great credit is due to Ian Strachan and his colleagues at the National Pharmacy Association for their efforts in gathering the two million-plus signatures on a petition against the proposed cuts, which undoubtedly gave the DH some food for thought. I’m also proud that Alliance Healthcare organised the distribution of the petition materials – a clear demonstration of our willingness to support community pharmacy, now and in the future.

Despite the tight timetable, what’s vital now is to focus on the future with new thinking. On that basis, I urge Mr Mowat to take time to visit community pharmacies and fully understand what we actually do – without appointment – every day, to help people live healthier and happier lives. These visits should take in all types of pharmacies, not just large dispensing practices, but smaller pharmacies, too.

You know as well as I do that community pharmacy does much more than dispense prescriptions and counsel on dosage, side effects and compliance. The plethora of services offered (many free of charge) to our patients is vital to their wellbeing, and this must be recognised. The provision of collection and delivery services to housebound and elderly patients is also vital and the loss would only increase pressure on already overstretched community services.

My own experience is that community pharmacy also performs an important social function that often goes unnoticed. Many patients often only need reassurance, or just somebody to talk to. I remember an elderly gentleman who came to ask me about a minor ailment. After 15 minutes or so, it became
clear that he had recently lost his wife; he was lonely. He simply needed somebody to talk to. Who will replace this unpaid function that is not available anywhere else, especially on a Saturday afternoon?

Only by making pharmacy visits will Mr Mowat be in a position to take part in an informed and well-reasoned debate with our representative bodies. I welcome the “Community Pharmacy Forward View” recently published by Pharmacy Voice and the PSNC. The fact is that many of the roles outlined are already carried out in pharmacies. The key is to ensure that Mr Mowat and his colleagues really understand this.
I believe that face-to-face visits to pharmacies will ensure this happens.

Following the recently announced government strategy on childhood obesity, it’s timely that the Alphega Pharmacy team has launched a new programme, Growing Healthy, aimed at helping families adopt healthy behaviours as part of their everyday lifestyle, to positively influence their weight. It is a sobering fact that, for the first time

I can recall, life expectancy in the UK may actually come down following the current epidemic of childhood obesity that’s increasing the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle diseases. Do look at this programme. Future generations will thank us for making a real contribution to
the improvement of public health.

I urge you to contact your MPs and invite them to visit you – remember what Mrs May learned when she visited her own local pharmacy.


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