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Pharmacists need to stop selling ‘useless tat’ if they want to be taken seriously

07 Oct 2016

The profession is going to have to work hard to improve its reputation if it wants its fairy tale ending, argues The Pharmacist’s new blogger Ross Ferguson.

It’s good to know where you stand in a relationship and chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens, has made his thoughts clear about community pharmacy. He thinks all community pharmacy does is ‘dole out £8bn-worth of medicines’ and that the £2.8bn cost of this isn’t worth it. He clearly doesn’t know what we actually do, but is that his fault?

Let’s face it, for the most part community pharmacy in England isn’t really seen as part of the NHS primary care team, except when it comes to sharing the pain of budget cuts. And as Luvjit Kandula, chief officer at Leicestershire and Rutland Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said at the Pharmacy Show in September: ‘we are still on the periphery of the NHS.’ She explained that community pharmacy had to fight even to get a seat at the table when planning services, never mind a sliver of the budget.

Take NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for example — pharmacy is barely mentioned, except in the context of minor ailments, and we all know what happened to the much desired national service. It’s bewildering really.

As I see it, our main problem is evidence. While there are pockets of great work throughout the UK, we haven’t really got robust evidence of the impact our services have on the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve. It’s only now that we are starting to gather this information – a historical failure that in hindsight, really is unforgiveable.

While the millions of signatures on the NPA petition against the pharmacy cuts are testament to the value the users of community pharmacies place on us, goodwill alone doesn’t cut it. For a moment, we dared to believe the proposed cuts could be avoided, but that feeling was short-lived.

It’s also evidence, or lack of it, that tarnishes our reputation with professional colleagues. You know the type of thing, the useless tat that still sits on our pharmacy shelves: homeopathy, healing magnets, as well as the services that have no evidence base. It looks like we value profit over professionalism, despite the many free services we provide to support our patients.

We can’t have it both ways. If we want to be taken seriously, we need to get a proper grip and stop selling the rubbish that tarnishes our reputations. While 90% of our work is NHS, it’s clearly this 10% that sticks in the minds of our professional colleagues. Let’s start there.

The positive to take from all of this, is that over the past year, the pharmacy organisations seem to have become more united, under the direction of Pharmacy Voice, and that can only be a good thing. Moreover, if you attended the Pharmacy Show, you’ll know passion, enthusiasm and a desire to contribute through the provision of clinical community pharmacy services are alive and well, and we know there are many areas where we can have a positive impact on the NHS, if we are just given the chance. But, this has to be counterbalanced by the fiscal and organisational realities we currently face.

It’s demoralising when year after year, minister after minster trots out phrases like ‘untapped resource’, while whispering compliments at various pharmacy conferences and events, but when it comes down to it, we just don’t get invited to the ball. We are the Cinderella profession of primary care, but we will need to work hard for our fairy tale ending.

Ross Ferguson is a locum pharmacist in Scotland

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