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Time to stand together


Time to stand together

The sector’s reputation is at risk when one of the biggest players within it is targeted

The recent Guardian investigation into Boots and MURs could damage pharmacy’s reputation at a crucial time. The whole profession must unite against this threat, says Pharmacy Voice chair Claire Ward

Investigative journalism does more than simply reveal the unknown, it has a habit of changing opinion too. Over recent years it has had considerable impact on the public opinion of some of our greatest establishments and the people associated with them.

Take the Telegraph’s exposé on MPs’ expenses in 2009. Despite the fact that many were not attempting to claim for moats, duck houses or non-existent mortgages, all MPs were damaged by association. The public opinion of MPs as a collective group has not changed since this event, despite the fact that some people may have a good word to say about their own experience with their own MP.

Roll forward to the release of the Panama Papers. Again, there may just be some individuals or companies whose names have appeared in this vast exposure but have not sought to avoid vast amounts of tax or engage in other immoral activities. Again, try persuading the public of that.

A damning article

So roll on once more, to the Guardian investigation into Boots and the allegations that staff are encouraged to undertake MURs whether or not they are required. Furthermore, the journalist alleges that the company has shifted from the solid, dependable community pharmacy of its British origins to a global corporate focused on the profits of shareholders and delivering a retail rather than healthcare experience. It is a damning piece supplemented by the contributions of anonymous staff who allege that their own health and wellbeing has been sacrificed to achieve a positive financial bottom line.

It is not my role to comment on the validity of these allegations. I am not dismissing the allegations, but the rightful place for such allegations to be investigated is within the General Pharmaceutical Council. My concern is that any reputational damage will not stop at the front door of the Boots pharmacy.

If you think this is just about the employment relations of Boots you are wrong. If you think this is just about how Boots is remunerated from the public purse, you are wrong too. On the contrary, Boots is synonymous in the public mind with pharmacy.

Even though patients may use their own independent pharmacy and value its integrity highly, their view of community pharmacy in general is likely to be affected. For a start, they may become suspicious of any pharmacist offering to undertake an MUR. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is that the public will doubt the professionalism of community pharmacists and believe that it is not patient health that is at the forefront but retail profit.

So, while some independents may not worry too much about the reputation of their local Boots competition the truth is that we are all in this together. The sector’s reputation is at risk when one of the biggest players within it is targeted.

The timing of course, could not be worse. Just as we are trying to persuade the public, parliamentarians and those that decide the fate of the NHS contract that pharmacy has much more to offer, this story suggests that pharmacy is already getting too much.

Now more than ever the sector needs to unite, because there is a huge risk that this reputational damage will spread. We need to start by making the case for professional intervention through MURs and the NMS. We know that, performed well and appropriately, these are of clinical value to patients. We should not be ashamed to be providing these services in pharmacies across the country.

Time to stay focused

We need to not be distracted by the negativity of this story from selling a positive message about community pharmacy – multiples and independents. Community pharmacy can deliver so much more and at the heart of the community, it offers the flexibility and accessibility that no other healthcare service can provide. At this time of huge pressure upon GPs and hospitals, we need pharmacy to be recognised for the service that it can offer to take a greater share of the care of patients especially those with long-term conditions.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might believe that the timing of this piece was all too convenient for those who do not see the value of community pharmacy and are only interested in making the sums add up. The Guardian does not strike me as the usual home of stories placed at the government’s bidding. However, such theories must not allow us to turn inwards as a sector and believe that the answer lies in tearing ourselves apart.

Whatever else comes from this story, there must be a renewed effort to present a credible and professional reply to the Department of Health, NHS England and government in general that pharmacy is and must be the answer, not the problem. Multiples and independent must remember the old maxim – united we stand, divided we fall.

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