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Why community pharmacy must play its part in tackling social issues

By Ade Williams
Community pharmacist

04 Apr 2019

A recent brush with a local project shows just how much difference pharmacies can make to their communities, says Bristol contractor Ade Williams


I have a confession to make. I was sitting in the consultation room last month speaking with a pleasant lady called Jane. The problem is that just a few minutes before she came into the pharmacy, I had devised many good excuses to extricate myself from our arranged meeting.


Jane is not a demanding or discontented patient. My reluctance to meet her does not do her justice. She came into the pharmacy at my invitation to discuss supporting the initiative she is championing locally, as she is the local South Bristol lead for the Red Box Project.


The Red Box Project is a community-based not-for-profit initiative that aims to support young people during periods by providing red boxes filled with free period products to local schools.


The project came about in 2017, when three friends in Portsmouth were angered after reading about ‘period poverty’ in the news. This is the idea that some young women were missing school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. So, those three friends decided to act. Their initiative now counts Jane has part of a UK-wide movement with international offshoots, too.


Period poverty matters because it presents another face of financial inequality, which, if unaddressed, feeds lower academic attainment and thus continues the cycle of poorer socioeconomic status.


My reluctance to speak to Jane wasn’t due to bashfulness. I just felt that I couldn’t champion this initiative on my own. My individual enthusiasm alone will not help bring the lasting change our society so badly needs. However, with the help of my team, I can help make a difference.


The Red Box Project is an example of how people are mobilising to tackle social injustice, embedded inequalities or accepted societal prejudice. Our country is not the Big Society that Steve Hilton and David Cameron championed all those years ago.


But the Red Box Project – and others initiatives like it – shows what is now possible in the social media age to raise the profile of social issues and champion their solutions. It’s organic, emotive and has a huge reach. It’s these community partnerships that are confronting and instigating change.


I believe that community pharmacy has a crucial role to play by being advocates and champions of our communities. Independent community pharmacies are mostly located in areas with the worst health and socio-economic challenges. The thought of losing easily accessible care in such communities was one of the reasons that galvanised the fight against the community pharmacy funding cuts a few years ago.


With the healthy living pharmacy ethos now embraced by almost all pharmacies in England, excellent holistic care can be offered proactively and tailored to address local needs. Sexual and reproductive health is another area that community pharmacy now rightly viewed as the ideal facilitators of the best care.


When pharmacy serves our communities in such roles, our real value is displayed. Raising the profile of local issues and helping to deliver solutions — this is when the community truly experiences the expertise and support of their local pharmacies – especially independents. Sadly, it’s not as though we have a dearth of such opportunities in our localities.


I am grateful to people like Jane who seek me out to fulfil this role. It is always my privilege to offer such worthy causes a community pharmacy team to partner with. Never underestimate what pharmacy can deliver – just pay us a visit in South Bristol to find out.

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