It’s unsurprising that community pharmacists are unsure about the future when the rhetoric from the top is so full of contradictions, says The Pharmacist’s reporter Costanza Pearce

This time next week, primary care networks (PCNs) will be live across the country.

For the uninitiated, PCNs are groups of GP practices serving 30-50,000 patients, working collaboratively with local healthcare providers such as community pharmacies. All of this is backed by funding under the latest GP contract.

There’s been a lot of talk about the enhanced role community pharmacy will play in the emerging structures. But speaking to contractors at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference last week, it’s immediately obvious they’re left with mixed emotions.

Nervousness, excitement, relief, frustration – the climate in community pharmacy is as conflicted as the weather has been in good ol’ blighty this June.

On one hand, community pharmacy is entering a period of transformation, moving away from a supply-based model and towards an increased delivery of services. Many are excited about the opportunities this will bring and the apparent recognition from the NHS and the Government that community pharmacists have more to offer.

And yet – while it’s great to be recognised, many have pointed out that the 'more' the powers that be are getting excited about often translates as work that many contractors are already doing.

In this context, the rhetoric of ‘upskilling’ community pharmacists – which made a return with this month’s publication of the NHS Interim People Plan – is frankly insulting. Contractors are finally being appreciated for the work they do on a day-to-day basis, but in the same breath they are being told they need more training.

It’s on a par with the ongoing frustration at the term ‘clinical’ pharmacist. Just this week, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) chief Paul Bennett made it clear that he has never met a community pharmacist who is not clinical. ‘Community pharmacists are clinicians and they always will be clinicians’, he told delegates at the NPA conference.

At the same event, pharmacist and NPA board member Reena Barai highlighted another ‘disconnect in the dialogue’. While some contractors are already offering services from their pharmacy, she pointed out, others might be tempted to panic in the face of change. A worry shared by many is that colleagues who still rely on supply will struggle to adapt to the new environment. No wonder some are nervous as well as excited about the months to come.

It’s clear that PCNs are where the future of the sector lies. But with so many tensions in the conversation, it’s hard to know whether that future will be bright. I’m left asking myself if July will bring some much-needed sunshine or if it will just continue to rain on community pharmacy.

Let’s hope PCNs turn out to offer the sector the glorious summer we’re all waiting for.