LPC chairman and NPA board member Dilip Joshi reflects on pharmacy’s ongoing challenge to gain public recognition and attends the opening of a new clinical pharmacy skills suite.

Tuesday February 6

I am teaching a group of third-year students at King’s College London. The topic is patient interaction and we have two diabetic patients attending. I ask students to ask questions sensitively but not hold back as we are in a ‘safe’ environment.

As facilitator, I steer the discussion to how pharmacists can help support diabetes in various settings. Clearly, in addition to students benefitting, such encounters are an opportunity to educate patients who, in turn, have the potential to become advocates for pharmacy. The discussion warms up as the students become more confident and I am pleased everyone feels they gained from the experience.

As the patients leave, one (who represents a local patient forum) asks me if I would attend one of their meetings to speak about how pharmacists can help diabetic patients. Of course, I am delighted to accept!

Monday February 12

“Parents urged to take sick children to pharmacists instead of GPs or A&E departments” is reported by the newspapers as ‘controversial’ new NHS advice. While the advice is not new, an example where a teenager died after a delay in seeking medical advice is quoted, suggesting the idea is a second-rate service based on cost.

Dr Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said: “Parents aren’t qualified to know whether an illness which seems minor actually is something far more serious – and while pharmacists are highly trained, they are not medically trained.” And Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, commented: “Parents aren’t doctors, and pharmacists aren’t doctors either.” In this sad and complex case, tests showed the teenager was suffering from sepsis, the flu, pneumonia and a fungal throat infection.

Unfortunately, the sterling work done by pharmacists in these situations is not recognised. As practising pharmacists, we know we can give help quickly, often offering clinical advice and effective treatments at the point of consultation. We also have the right clinical training to refer patients with more serious conditions elsewhere as appropriate.

I reflect that our challenge is twofold: firstly, we need to ensure that we have an excellent, agreed triaging system that is fully integrated with other healthcare providers, and secondly we need to do everything possible to increase confidence of the public, fellow providers and commissioners in our work. The best-value proposition is not providing healthcare on the cheap; rather, it is making the most of the huge potential that the community pharmacy network offers.

Friday and Saturday February 23-24

NPA Board meetings are held over this weekend in York. This is one of the last meetings of the present term and we take the opportunity to take stock of challenges and achievements. As we are acutely aware, there has been no shortage of challenges with funding cuts and an increased regulatory burden resulting in a general lack of motivation among members.

The NPA has tried to support members in the face of adversity and campaigned vigorously to fight the unjust cuts culminating in a judicial review that recognised shortcomings in the Department of Health’s approach. We agree, however, that this is no time to rest on our laurels. Instead, we must redouble our efforts as supply-chain issues and reducing margins continue to affect small independents disproportionately.

Wednesday February 28

Today, I am at King’s to attend the opening of a Clinical Pharmacy Skills Suite. I have taught in this classroom before, but it has been transformed into a modern facility with island workstations around which four to five students sit, with a demonstration area and whiteboard at the front.

Students have a computer screen each, at which prescription information is available for error-checking and simulating the dispensing process. In a separate room, there is a mock community pharmacy counter with OTC products found in a typical pharmacy where students can practise responding to symptoms and exercise their consultation skills.

Many of the great and the good are present both from King’s and outside, all with an association with the School of Pharmacy. There are a few speeches and Professor Edward Byrne, president and principal of King’s announces the new facility is to be named The Hylands Suite in honour of the Head of the Pharmacy Department, Professor Peter Hylands, who unveils a plaque.

Our LPC ‘Ask your Pharmacy Team’ campaign has worked closely with King’s (involving final year students) and Peter and I have signed the certificates of participants over the years. Peter is a respected academic and has led multidisciplinary research programmes in Europe, the Americas and various Asian countries and has been an invited speaker all over the world. I am delighted that his work has been recognised by the university and that this new facility will help students for many years to come.

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