A view from the Sigma conference: Stop funding ‘clinical’ pharmacy at the expense of community


By Beth Kennedy

20 Feb 2019

Reflecting on talks at the Sigma conference in Muscat, Oman, our editor-in-chief is far from convinced by the Government’s current obsession with GP pharmacists

Over the past few days at the Sigma conference in Muscat, Oman, I’ve been struck by all the talk of collaboration.

Collaborating with other healthcare professionals, the speakers have repeatedly told delegates, will be essential if community pharmacy is to make it through these hard times. And they could well be right – after all, last month’s NHS Long Term Plan (LTP) made several mentions of how the sector could adapt to this joined-up way of working, such as direct GP-to-pharmacy referrals.

Then there was the new GP contract, which will pay for 70% of the salary of a pharmacist to be employed in each practice in England – hardly an insubstantial investment in the profession. Actually, let me put it a different way; it’s hardly an insubstantial investment in so-called clinical pharmacy (can we just do away with that nefarious moniker please?).

As the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chief executive Mark Lyonette told delegates this week, all this talk of clinical pharmacy means that community pharmacists barely get a look in. And as he quite rightly pointed out, this could result a struggle for the sector to avoid becoming replaced by these new roles.

Now, I’m convinced that there will always be an important role for you community pharmacists. The loyalty of your patients is testament enough to that. But I do share Mr Lyonette’s concerns over the split of funding between clinical and community settings. After several years of challenging funding conditions, the sector needs a boost, and it’s pretty galling to instead be reminded on a pretty constant basis that clinical pharmacy is the apple of the Government’s eye.

The thing is, I’m not opposed to clinical pharmacy. I actually agree with the Government that as a role it makes a lot of sense. I just don’t agree with this either/or funding philosophy they seem to have wholeheartedly embraced. We need a funding model that recognises the importance of both roles and, importantly, remunerates them accordingly. It’s a view I’ve heard echoed by many delegates this week.

So what can we do to achieve that? Well, I suspect the answer will be in showing that community pharmacists are every bit as clinically able as pharmacists working in GP practices or primary care networks. And that could well lie in upping the amount of services you offer.

I know times are hard at the moment and that the thought of adding another task to your day may be the last thing you feel like doing. But with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) hinting that it is after a service-based contract, it may be the most prudent thing you can do to safeguard your business.

As always, The Pharmacist will be here to give you all the latest tips and tricks to effectively run your business. We’ll help to see you through these dark days.