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What’s the point of pharmacists?

17 Jan 2017

I don’t see the point of pharmacists, and I never have. And no, that’s not first-sentence-in-first-blog hubris. Contrarians like me don’t see the point in a lot of things.

Another example: pharmaceutical company ads. I remember, when I first qualified, not being able to get my head round the very concept of pharma marketing – it was like trying to sell the idea of a flat earth to a freshly minted astrophysicist. And those ads still give me a ‘what’s all that about?’ feeling.

Just like pharmacists, in fact. Except that, while my colleagues were always sniffy about pharma ads, they seemed to accept, unquestioningly, the existence of pharmacists – just as we tend to unquestioningly accept the existence of, say, socks, or wasps.

Until now, that is. Because the Government’s current scorched-earth policy towards community pharmacy means its purpose is suddenly a matter of hot debate. In one corner are people like politicians, who are thinking the unthinkable as they seek to scrimp and save to keep the NHS afloat.

And people like me, too, who have always thought that pharmacists are an expensive anachronism, given that they’re just about qualified to repeat a pharmacology service GPs already provide, and over-qualified to store pharmaceuticals, count pills and run a shop.

And in the other corner are, of course, pharmacists themselves, who try to justify their existence by citing their service to the community, the new roles they keep dreaming up to make themselves seem indispensible and the plague of minor ills which will decimate general practice if they are rendered extinct.

It’s all very intriguing. As is the Government’s strategy, which appears to be to shift the role and, ultimately, the cost of community pharmacists into general practice, using pump-priming money as a sweetener.

It’s so transparent and crassly formulated that you end up scratching your head in wonder at those who thought GPs – and pharmacists – would swallow it. Then again, I’ve never seen the point of politicians, either.

Dr Livingstone is The Pharmacist’s new GP blogger.

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