A picture in the October issue of our sister publication Pharmacy Magazine underlines just how much our profession has been exploited by the corporate world over the years. It showed actor Richard E Grant flanked by a director of the UK arm of the European company Celesio and a director of the UK arm of Celesio’s American parent McKesson. They were celebrating the re-opening of the John Bell & Croyden pharmacy in London, which is now part of this particular commercial conglomerate. There was not a pharmacist in sight. What makes the picture particularly poignant is that the famous pharmacy was first opened by John Bell, father of Jacob Bell, the founder of the Pharmaceutical Society. The Society, of course, went on to fight a losing battle in the courts with Jesse Boot over the right of corporate bodies to practise pharmacy. Loss in the courts paved the way for the PM picture we see today.
Talking of the Society, it was founded by Bell and others of like mind to counter attempts by the medical profession to control the sale of medicines, and reflected the spirit of competition between the professions. That competition continues to this day, as can be seen in the current spat over flu vaccination, where many medics are fighting tooth and nail to hang on to their business as pharmacists, now with the blessing of government, strongly enter the field.
And talking of Jacob Bell, he could be turning in his grave at the way the PJ, which he founded and bequeathed to the Society, has become dominated by staff imports from elsewhere. The ex-Nature managing editor now appears immediately under the ex-Nature publisher in the list of staff, and those pharmacists who have not left have been moved further down. Bell was anxious that the shop (the day-to-day practice of pharmacy) should feature strongly in the PJ when he made his bequest. There does not seem to be much about that now that the pharmacists on the staff have become the poor relations.
Whenever governments propose anything to meet a perceived public need, such as night-time running of transport services or improving outcomes for patients admitted to hospitals at the weekend, the default position of workers’ representatives is to oppose. Who are the real conservatives who want things to stay as they are, one might be led to ask. The latest workers’ battle is between the Department of Health and the British Medical Association, over seven-day working in hospitals. The DH wants a change in contracts to facilitate a more even spread of working hours. The BMA is against the proposals and is balloting its members on strike action. It has even gone to court to stop the GMC putting its oar in to remind doctors of their ethical responsibilities. Top of those ethical responsibilities, of course, is to put the patient first. I simply don’t see how that can be done if a doctor is on strike.
As I write, preparations were being made once more for the National Pharmacy Association’s Ask Your Pharmacist Week. This is an admirable initiative, started many moons ago, which can only have been a force for good in changing public perceptions. It’s a pity that it does not seem to have had the same effect at an official level. The PSNC has got nowhere in its negotiations on a national minor ailments scheme for England. Such a development would have chimed in perfectly with the NPA’s message. But things are being blocked, I understand, within NHS England. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind betting that it is the medics who are behind the resistance. They are always bleating about overwork, but one thing they dislike even more is competition.