Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

I have been writing these columns for more than five years now. Each time I sit at my keyboard thinking we are taking one step forward, I realise that we have taken two steps back.

I guess that in my 47 years in community pharmacy, I have become a little disillusioned because, despite our best efforts, we are still regarded as the Cinderella profession of healthcare by many. So, to avoid being called “a grumpy old man”, as my dear wife describes me, I have found some positives this month (sadly there are still a few negatives, too).

On the positive side: I am encouraged to read that dispensing errors are at last to be decriminalised. The government consultation ‘Rebalancing medicine legislation and pharmacy regulation’ addresses this thorny issue, and also outlines proposals to publish pharmacy inspection reports and deal with breaches of premises standards.

I also welcome the decision of the GPhC to stop widely using the term “satisfactory” for pharmacy premises. By definition, the term implies not good, but not bad. I can understand the frustration of the many fine pharmacies that have been labelled in this way. This will be even more important, if the government proposal to publicise the outcomes of premises inspection goes ahead.

But what’s less positive?

I am disappointed by the re-classification of diclofenac and domperidone to prescription-only medicines, removing two valuable molecules from the armoury available to pharmacists. We are responsible professionals and we can surely be trusted to take potential side effects into account when recommending such treatments.

We continue to receive mixed messages about the value of pharmacies to the communities they serve. Last month I referred to some resistance from patients to using pharmacies as the first port of call – feeling they were denied access to healthcare services. I then read London-based GP Clare Gerada, at NHS England (London Region), saying ‘It might be important for pharmacists to look at what they are doing before stepping on GPs’ toes’. It is clear that much of what we do is appreciated by GPs – but there are areas where we have to tread carefully. The solution is clear: there needs to be an excellent relationship between pharmacists and their local GP practice. Some already exist, some don’t – but all should.

I see with dismay (but no great surprise) that NHS England’s area teams are unwilling to fund pharmacies with low prescription volume indefinitely. Essential small pharmacies meet a very important need in the areas they serve. They cannot be replaced by distance-selling pharmacies as some have suggested. Pharmacy is far more than a collection and delivery service.

I continue to hold the view that the relationship between the pharmacist and patient is sacrosanct – it is the reason for our very existence! If such services are lost in the interest of economy, what will be next? I fear that the money men do not always put the interest of the patients first.

I am not a political animal, but I did attend my first local election meeting last week and was amazed at how little the candidate knew about pharmacy. I urge you all to attend such meetings and make your presence felt. These individuals will govern our country for the next five years. I close by commenting on two important events that I have attended.

The first is the European Pharmacists Forum in Brussels where we launched our White Paper on ‘The role of pharmacy in supporting the public’s health’. Walgreens Boots Alliance remains committed to the future of community pharmacy. Please do read the paper carefully. The second is the Alphega Pharmacy European Convention. This virtual chain has more than 6,000 members across Europe and I am convinced it is the key to the future viability of independent community pharmacy. If you want to know more, please contact me. 

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


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