Earlier this month, health secretary Matt Hancock was one of a handful of former Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet to keep their jobs under new boss Boris Johnson. Now we know that he’s here to stay – for the time being at least – there’s a bone I’d like to pick with him.
Mr Hancock has been going on about the virtues of pharmacies across the Channel for some time, most recently as part of his announcement of the new pharmacy contract. This time, he said he wants the UK ‘to move towards the French model, where they offer a wider range of services and play a stronger role in the community.’
But even if French community pharmacy really is that stellar, could it even be replicated in our UK context?
At the risk of making an obvious point, France does not have an NHS. Trying to copy one isolated sector from a completely different healthcare system is like transplanting a lung from a cat into a dog. Much ink has already been spilled on this, but despite the noise, we’re missing the point.
Mr Hancock is facing in the wrong direction. While he is wistfully gazing east from his Westminster office, pharmacists west and north of him have a better deal than those under his care in England.
I’m talking about Wales and Scotland. Both countries have been leading the way on service-based community pharmacy for years – and isn’t that exactly what our health secretary has been applauding in our continental neighbours?
A common ailment scheme (CAS) was rolled out across north Wales back in 2016-17 and the devolved Government has continued to back its pharmacists with investment. Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething even made a point of contrasting his attitude with that of his English counterpart when he announced the £1.4m cash injection to the 2018/19 Welsh funding in April.
As for Scotland, discussions around the national minor ailments service began as long ago as 1999 and the service itself was rolled out across the country in 2006. This year, it merged with another service that sees patients treated for urinary tract infections and impetigo in pharmacies and an expansion is in the pipeline for 2020.
Meanwhile, according to one contractor The Pharmacist spoke to, the sector is ‘on its knees’ in England. While the new contract finally offers a move towards increased delivery of services, what is in effect another cut to community pharmacy over the next five years of flat funding will do little to improve matters.
Pharmacy sector is already looking up to Scotland, and increasingly Wales, as its gold standard. Indeed, independent pharmacy support group Numark called for the rest of the UK to ‘aspire to the Scottish model’ just last year.
So, Mr Hancock – there’s no need to be a pharmacy Francophile. You don’t have to venture far from home to find services to write home about.