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NPA chairman's new year message

The NPA will highlight the naive thinking and consequences of scaled automation

A message to NPA members from chairman Ian Strachan:


"As we say hello to 2016, many of our thoughts go immediately to the government’s consultation on ‘efficiencies’ that was laid out just before Christmas: a set of proposals which are high on change but low on detail and display little understanding of the real value of community pharmacy.

Many of you are angry and dismayed at the prospect of cuts to your funding. We will lobby and support the PSNC as they lead in the fight against this.

But whilst I do not for one moment underestimate the difficulty such cuts will cause to independent pharmacies, I fear that the associated jumble of policy proposals is even more concerning for the long term prospects of the sector.

There is no mandate for these changes and they look every bit like proposals dreamt up in Whitehall rather than developed by pharmacists at the coal face.

We must articulate to policy makers the value of our network, so that they do not think, wrongly, that large scale automation could reduce the need for bricks & mortar pharmacies, rooted in communities; that prescriptions could be collected from general convenience stores or automated collection points; that patient advice supplied through remote contact centres is equivalent to face-to-face advice given in local pharmacies by accessible health care professionals.

That would be a worst-case scenario, but it is plausible to think this could be the long term outcome of the policy direction the government is currently laying out.

The government will never find answers for the NHS unless it asks the right questions. The NPA will start the year by asking the right questions of the Government and challenging officials’ assumptions about cost reduction.

The network benefits

So many of the Government’s proposals are predicated on a jumble of ideas around automation. Technology should, of course, play its role but community pharmacy is fundamentally about people; it is part of the fabric of people’s lives. In recent days we have seen the benefit of a widely distributed network of local community pharmacies:

  • Outstanding work in flood-impacted communities, including Tadcaster where an independent pharmacy is hosting GP surgeries
  • Supplying patients let down by operational failures at one of the UK’s largest existing online pharmacies

The NPA will highlight the naive thinking and consequences of scaled automation, together with the missed opportunities it would deny patient care. We will point out that medication is not some fast moving commodity and pharmacies are more than just a distribution mechanism for product. At the same time, for premises to remain viable then dispensing must remain a core activity of the network.

We will also pull together and present evidence about the value of your role and propose system-wide efficiencies that can be achieved by investing in the network rather than decimating it.

Before Christmas, the NPA began to mobilise independent pharmacists to play their part in what will be a robust and coordinated response by the independent sector to the Government’s proposals. If you haven’t already done so, you can register to receive updates and ideas for how to get involved at npa.co.uk/independentsvoice. You will be given resources to build the evidence base required to make a compelling case to Government and NHS, plus hands-on support to mobilise public opinion and political support.

As we start this New Year, let me assure you we will work tirelessly to secure your future, a future in which community pharmacy can play its full role in patient care."




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