I wish I could start this column with words of comfort and optimism for independent community pharmacists and their teams. Twelve months ago we started the year with a huge level of uncertainty following the infamous letter of December 17, 2015. And, as the year went on, I think we had all hoped, as we look back at 2016, that we would be in a better place, having fought a good campaign against the cuts programme.
The outcome is not as any of us would have wished. The more than two million people who signed the petition in support of their local pharmacy, the local and national politicians who are now more aware of the work of community pharmacy, the health professionals who now clearly see the potential of the sector, are small crumbs of comfort in the face of the impending cashflow gap that will hit the sector early in 2017.
They do, however, represent a support base to be tapped into as the sector builds from this. While some may suggest that the campaign continues, I think it is the ongoing engagement that is now important to ensure that the sector does not face further devastating levels of cuts in the next budget cycle. Engagement is positive.
This leaves the sector cash-challenged, in court, excluded, and appearing to outsiders to be disunited
You now face a whole box of unknowns in the coming year. Business uncertainty as the funding cuts bite. Uncertainty around future funding itself in the legal action being pursued by both the PSNC and the NPA. Uncertainty over community pharmacy’s place within the NHS, as leaders working in STPs and Vanguards frantically pursue the transformation programmes which, as far as the NHS funding crisis is concerned, are the latest throw of the dice on the only craps table in town. And now independent contractors also face uncertainty in how the sector will be organised and represented in the future.
You wouldn’t expect me to describe the decision of the NPA to exercise its constitutional right by giving a year’s notice to Pharmacy Voice as anything less than a huge blow. PV was established, in part, as an answer to general confusion, and a view most often voiced by politicians – that pharmacy was a fragmented profession which needed a united voice. All this leaves the sector cash-challenged, in court, excluded, and appearing to outsiders to be disunited.
As well as unity, Pharmacy Voice was created – at the primary instigation of the NPA – so that pharmacy could take back some control of its own future. Leaders then felt we were, as a sector, largely reactive, and had been for years. Pharmacy Voice’s 2011 Blueprint for Better Health provided the initial roadmap for change, proposing a new patient pathway approach to thinking about the pharmacy service.
Given recent events, the Community Pharmacy Forward View might now be seen as PV’s legacy. It was published in August – or at least most of it was – as a joint vision by PV and PSNC, with the support
of the RPS. The CPFV projects us forward five years to a world in which pharmacy is an integrated part of healthcare, meeting urgent care needs, supporting the better use of medicines, and providing a ‘hub in the high street’ approach to better public health and keeping well.
It combines the aspiration, enthusiasm and pragmatism of those in the sector who understand how it works now, but also how it needs to work in the future. It builds on the very core of community pharmacy – an accessible network with knowledgeable supply of medicines at its heart.
It recognises that the current business model needs fixing, and that as soon as we can get past the past, we can start looking to the future. And we need to, because the future is really the only game in town.