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Should we fight, or talk?

Our recent Leicestershire federation seminar on ‘Securing your pharmacy future’ attracted over 50 independent contractors from as far afield as Leeds and Kent. With an agenda covering key business survival strategy, the biggest concern on the mind of every pharmacy owner was the financial viability of their business. Keynote speakers included business advisors from pharmacy banker Santander and leading specialist pharmacy agent Christie & Co. Both institutions insist our sector is still buoyant, but they did warn about the impact of eroding pre-tax profitability on pharmacy valuations.

Strong-armed, or what?

Iain Duncan Smith recently created a furore when he resigned from the government as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Yet, in the midst of the media storm his resignation created, an equally sensational story about the NHS crept under the radar. It came from former Lib Dem MP and minister in the coalition government David Laws, and it concerned the vexed question of how much extra money the NHS actually needs up to the year 2020.

Protesting about the cuts

I am attending an occasionally held NPA and NPA Insurance joint meeting today to align the strategies of both. NPAI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NPA and it is important that the organisations work together in the best interests of members. Such meetings allow the parent company to understand the regulatory challenges of operating an insurance company and NPAI to understand the challenges faced by community pharmacists in their day-to-day practice. Satisfaction levels are high and the dedicated team for claims handling consistently receives excellent feedback.

A calmer view

Last month I was very angry. I’ve now calmed down and taken the time to read properly the letter sent by the Department of Health to PSNC concerning the proposed funding cuts. The dictatorial tone of the letter is set by its threats of cuts and closures, so a knee-jerk response is unsurprising. However, the stakeholder briefing for the future of community pharmacy is much more positive. It acknowledges the vital role of community pharmacy, and that we could play a much greater role in optimising medicines, treating minor ailments, supporting people with long-term conditions, preventive care and promoting better health.

England and Scotland: compare and contrast

I can’t help comparing and contrasting the situation facing community pharmacists in England with those in Scotland. In both countries, pharmacists are being urged by the powers that be to operate more clinically. The difference is that in Scotland, crucially, they are paid for it. There is already in Scotland a national minor ailments scheme – conspicuous by its absence south of the border – and the national chronic medication service, where pharmacists can manage the treatment of those on a stable regime.

NHS close-up

Never a week goes by these days when the NHS isn’t an entire news story. Normally we would admire, empathise and support the stresses and pressures, but until you become a patient you can’t really write a meaningful sentence about it. Since January I’ve had a bad upper respiratory tract infection. What started as a few days of non-stop coughing gave way to conking out mid-cough. It happened anytime, anywhere and after the frequency of attacks increased from once daily up to 10 or more times daily, I called 111.

Dealing with the DH bombshell

The pre-Christmas bombshell announcement on cuts to the community pharmacy budget has been exercising minds locally and nationally. Today, I am at the House of Commons making a presentation sponsored by Kate Hoey MP. Other than MPs, the invited audience includes GPs, nurses, hospital consultants, local authority councillors, CCG chairs, people from Healthwatch, social services, patient groups and NHS England and, of course, pharmacists, including NPA and Pharmacy London chairs and the RPS president – a really eclectic group! Unfortunately, a consultant from St Thomas’ cannot come due to the junior hospital doctors’ strike, which is also today.

Health Warning

I am profoundly disturbed by the government’s decision to cut our funding by 6 per cent: it is no less than an act of wanton destruction. By the government’s own estimates, as many as 3,000 pharmacies could be forced out. Obviously, our representative bodies should present a united front to fight this cut, but from what I have seen they haven’t actually grasped the underlying issue – that this is simply another step in a cynical assault on the NHS.Pharmacy Voice produced the most vigorous protest, but it won’t have the slightest effect.

No snogging in this business

Just when you thought ‘spellcheckophobia’ couldn’t be any scarier than a wooden frying pan, I was doing a snagging list for one of my rental properties. Anybody in the rental business knows about HMOs (houses in multiple occupation), sections 13 and 21 and, of course, the very expensive section eight, of the Housing Act.I have rented out houses since the 1990s and have built up a portfolio in double figures. What started out as a hobby can be quite a headache at times.

Shame on the junior doctors

Junior doctors in England went on strike for a second time on February 10. Shame on them! Call themselves professionals? I was always told that being a professional set a calling apart. Members of a profession put the public interest above their own. There are codes of conduct embodying this selfless approach. Indeed, the current code for doctors requires them to put patients first. As I have said before, I don’t see how doctors can do that if they are on strike.

Choices and decisions

There’s no doubt the Department of Health has managed to achieve what it intended with the funding cuts. Pharmacy has become a frenzy of engagement, activity and debate – something our representative bodies have never before been able to achieve. Despite years of endless conferences, campaigns and even a government-backed call to action, it’s taken a £176m threat to our income to jump-start a reaction.

Fun and games from the DH

Alistair Burt, the Heath Department Minister who has pharmacy within his portfolio, cried off at the last minute from attending the NPA’s triennial dinner in November last year. He apparently pleaded parliamentary business. But could it be that the pay cut for pharmacy that was shortly to be announced made him a reluctant attender. He could reasonably have expected that NPA chairman Ian Strachan would have made a strong case (as Ian did) for expanding the role of community pharmacists in the hard-pressed NHS and he surely would have known that pharmacy was about to face a severe haircut in the form of a reduced global sum.

A game of strategy, or fantasy?

The influence of the BBC’s ‘Dickensian’ theme seems to have reached as far as the NHS just before Christmas, with ruthless Mr Scrooge slashing pharmacy funding in an unprecedented manner. Moreover, he certainly forgot to emerge in 2016 as a reformed and generous man!By imposing a cut of £170m in pharmacy funding for 2016-17, the Global Sum will shrink to £2.63bn and our funding in cash terms will be reduced by a dramatic 6 per cent before we factor in the additional hit from national minimum wage reviews and pension contributions.

The ups and downs of pharmacy life

The Christmas period was as busy as ever, and so was Christmas Day. I took the liberty of taking both my nephews for the first time (one from each sibling, both aged seven) to start work experience. I used to be the proud carrier of my father’s medical bag, chief A-Z reader, used to accompany him to stock up his bag from Richmond Pharmacy and watch him perform his magic on his patients every Saturday. That being 40 years ago I didn't get paid and we never dressed up in fine Christmas fare and Christmas-knit cool!

A bombshell from the chief pharmacist

A Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine review says that 13 doctors died while the GMC failed to act on the emerging link between doctor suicides and the fitness-to-practise process. The review goes on to say: “The GMC has to protect patients, but it also has a duty of care to those doctors that it investigates”. It is interesting to see the parallels between the GPs’ regulatory body and our GPhC. I am often told by many contractors that the inspectorate is heavy-handed and unhelpful.

Agreement on a commissioned service provider

Monday, November 9 I am attending a Lambeth Borough Prescribing Committee meeting this afternoon. Included in our duties are the agreeing, setting and monitoring of GP targets. We also review appeals of those who did not meet targets and for whom penalties are usually financial. Many pharmacists believe that, as CCGs are GP-led, they would look after GP interests. However, today, tensions are clearly seen between this committee and the LMC ...

Your country needs you

Have you seen the iconic recruitment poster from the First World War: Lord Kitchener, with his waxed moustache looking directly at you with the caption ‘Your Country Needs You’? I was reminded of it by a recent survey conducted by Pharmacy Voice which found that nine in 10 GPs would like more help from us in making sure that medicines prescribed for the over-75s were necessary and being taken properly ...

The fat of the land

There’s no disputing the facts: Britain is overweight. In December 2015, in her annual report, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said obesity was the biggest threat to women’s health. Of course, not only women are affected by obesity. In its 2014 report on obesity, Public Health England noted a number of very worrying trends ...

Hubs, spokes, and technology

The greatest impact on our profession over the next decade is going to come from technology. We already need to keep records of patient care to ensure the safety, quality, consistency and continuity of the service we provide. So our current use of technology, whether simply using a phone or fax machine or engaging with patient information with systems such as PMR or EPOS, is well established in pharmacy practice.

Reaching for the unachievable

Let’s say you were responsible for running pharmacy UK and developing the vision. Just pretend. Imagine you are in your mahogany-lined office on the 35th floor and you hear a timid knock on the door. Enter the chief executive officer. Slightly stooped, he produces a spotless, freshly ironed handkerchief and nervously polishes his gold, round-framed spectacles. He slides a spreadsheet across your desk, clears his throat and murmurs: “These are the pharmacy numbers for the last quarter.”

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