The community pharmacy sector must work together with the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) of MPs to more effectively influence parliamentarians and policymakers, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) has urged.
But Community Pharmacy England (CPE), the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) insisted that the three organisations are committed to working jointly, as well as using every channel available to influence policy.
In a statement released this morning, AIMp suggested that pharmacy bodies are ‘easily ignored’ by politicians and policymakers as they ‘lack cohesion’ and work ‘in silo’ to engage Parliament.
Instead, it called for community pharmacy bodies to join a roundtable discussion backed by the APPG in order to come to a united manifesto for the sector.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, AIMp chief executive, said that it was ‘no use’ each pharmacy organisation having a ‘long wish-list, which is often unrealistic and unachievable’.
She said this meant that those in positions of power were ‘able to easily “divide and rule”, to pick us off against each other’.
She suggested that community pharmacy bodies should instead ‘have one simple manifesto for our sector, that we can take to the public, to politicians and decision makers’.
‘We should agree to it, stick to it and fight on it,’ she added.
From AIMp’s perspective, Dr Hannbeck said that ‘top of the agenda should be the future’, including a ‘lack of funding going forward and mounting workforce issues’.
But she added that ‘the priorities are for us all to decide’.
And she emphasised that engaging with MPs from all parties to advocate for the sector within parliament was ‘the best way’ to combat the challenges currently faced by community pharmacy.
However, in response, CPE, the CCA and the NPA said that it would be 'naïve' to limit influencing work to just one channel.
'It makes sense to use a variety of channels and tactics to influence public policy. Limiting our work to just one parliamentary channel would be naïve and do a disservice to pharmacy owners,' the three organisations said in a joint statement this afternoon.
And they said that they had supported the work of the APPG since its formation and worked jointly to influence government and NHS policy such as the recent NHS England Primary Care Recovery Plan.
'There is much more to be done, and our three organisations are committed to continuing this critical work collaboratively. We manage to work closely together despite being separate organisations and not always taking exactly the same views on things,' they said.
And they added that they were 'disappointed' to see AIMp make these calls to the media.
'There is some irony in calls for unity coming via the media rather than simply speaking directly to us. We are of the view that effective collaboration, both within the sector and with external stakeholders, is achieved by maintaining good lines of communication and building trusted relationships.'
Dr Hannbeck responded that AIMp had reached out to other pharmacy organisations, including the NPA and CPE, to work together, including writing letters to the chairs of these organisations.
And she said that she remained concerned about the future of the sector, reiterating calls to work together and support the APPG.
'The sad truth is that despite the best efforts of our associations acting individually, and regardless of what they say, we have received very little from this government,’ Dr Hannbeck said.
And she added: 'My concern and indeed AIMp’s concern is our members and independent pharmacy contractors and the daily struggles they face. I know that if we work together we are stronger and we would also be foolish not to draw on the support of our political friends from all sides via a stronger and well supported APPG.'
The APPG, a cross-sector group of MPs, has drawn attention to pharmacy issues in parliament since 1999.
It recently wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to ‘empower and fund’ pharmacies.
And in interviews with The Pharmacist last year, three APPG members encouraged pharmacists to be ‘loud and noisy’ and make the case for the challenges and opportunities facing the sector to their MPs.
An upcoming Westminster debate this Thursday, secured by Conservative MP for Waveney Peter Aldous, is set to spotlight the ‘unprecedented challenges’ faced by community pharmacies.
This comes as Community Pharmacy England is set to launch its ‘Vision for community pharmacy’, written by The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust, next week.