As a former MP for Watford, Claire Ward is currently the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s (PDA) director of public affairs.

She talks to Léa Legraien about her success, challenges and passion for the sector.


Q Why did you become an advocate for community pharmacy?


A I was conscious that pharmacy had a potential to do so much more for patient health and be integrated into the NHS.

Yet, it appeared to me that pharmacy was hiding its light under a bushel. It didn’t really explain enough of what it was capable of doing and didn’t advocate well so I found myself helping to do that.

I think the perspective of not being a pharmacist often helped me see what [the sector’s] potential is.


Q How do you champion the profession?


A I initially came into pharmacy with the Independent Pharmacy Federation (IPF), working with contractors. Then I became the chair of Pharmacy Voice, working across all parts of pharmacy, advocating on behalf of pharmacists and understanding the struggles and difficulties they face.

After Pharmacy Voice, I came in to work with the PDA and was able to see all aspects of pharmacy and the different roles people play.

I think successive governments have failed to recognise pharmacies and not used pharmacists’ clinical skills sufficiently to ease the pressures in the system.

Too many see pharmacies as a retailing environment rather than a clinical one at the heart of our communities. The skills of pharmacists aren’t simply dispensing – it’s also about the clinical understanding of how to use medicines and what is going to benefit the patients.


Q What is the key to your success?


A I like being busy, doing lots of things and trying to bring people together to concentrate on the big picture.

There are a lot of areas [within pharmacy] where we disagree but there are also areas where we can agree. We want the profession to be recognised more, a greater emphasis on the skills of pharmacists, patients to get better use of the pharmaceutical care they receive and pharmacists to be treated better.

We need to persuade the NHS, commissioners and the Government that they need to use pharmacy more and get the public to recognise that pharmacy should be the first port of call.


Q What are your biggest achievements?


A I think we did some fantastic work with pharmacy at the IPF and I hope its legacy will change the way independents look at themselves.

In Pharmacy Voice, we did some amazing work on the Five Year Forward View (FYFW), in terms of pharmacy, making sure we were plugging into the right places – I’m really sorry that didn’t go longer-term.

The work at the PDA is excellent in helping to support pharmacists and change the direction of pharmacy.

We’re now starting to work more collaboratively, engaging in discussions with other parts of the sector. It isn’t just about individual cases, it’s about shaping the big picture together.


Q What challenges have you faced along the way?


A Sometimes, my frustration is about people who don’t recognise that we need to shift and move on, saying ‘we’ve always done it like this’.

My frustration also comes from looking around and thinking ‘you’re not developing enough of the pipeline of talent you’ve got’. This is a profession where 66% are females and yet if you look across the organisations most of them are dominated by white males.

Of course, some of them are fantastic people doing an amazing job but we need to be thinking about how we bring in more young women at different levels. We need to help employers change their mindsets around [those] things.

I got into politics in my 20s and was an MP at 24 in a male-dominated environment. A lot of men were patronising and dismissive, referring to me as the ‘young girl in the corner’ type thing. What you have to do is prove that you’ve got a seat at the table because you’re entitled to it.


Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?


Understanding where you want to go and how to take people with you.

Also, communicating with people and telling them you understand their concerns about that journey. You need to be a bit ahead of them to be that leader but you can’t be so far ahead that you don’t understand what it’s like to be on the shop floor. You have to paint a picture about the destination, or at least the journey, one people can understand and have some affinities with.


Q What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?


A I would say to women that it might be one step at a time [to climb the ladder], with the person starting off as a leader in their pharmacy, helping to support their colleagues.

Start with what you feel you can do and constantly challenge yourself. There are times where I think ‘I’m not sure I can do that’ but saying ‘yes’ is the right thing to do.

Look for mentors, people who can support you – both men and women.


Q How would you describe the current state of pharmacy?


A It’s gone through some tough times over the last few years.

There are new forward-thinking people in pharmacy and I think it’s important we work together.

I’m very impressed by what I see from those leaders, such as Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) chief executive Simon Dukes, talking about bringing the different parts of pharmacy together. Moving in that direction is very positive.


Q What changes would you like to see?


A A recognition of the skills pharmacists have as a core part of primary care. They’re too often seen as something that’s not significant enough in the community.

I’d like the public to have a better understanding of the capabilities of pharmacists, whether they are in communities or in GP surgeries.

Pharmacy’s got a great future but it has to change and be willing to embrace change.

It has to say to the NHS and the Government: ‘We’re the answer. You’ve kept overlooking us over the years but we are the answer to a lot of the problems you have’.