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The certainty of the five-year contract is disappearing

We have heard nice words from politicians but words are no longer enough, says Nick Kaye...

The recent death of Murray Walker has got me reflecting on the past and feeling nostalgic. Why did the passing of a motorsport commentator affect me so much? It was because his voice always takes me back to Sunday afternoons with my grandfather and the time we spent together.

That, in turn, made me reflect on why my brother and I always spent Sunday afternoon with our grandparents.

It was because Sunday afternoon was the only time my mum and dad could spend time together as it was the only time the pharmacy was closed. The pharmacy was open seven days a week every week. Yes, the times changed depending on whether it was summer or winter, but the pharmacy was serving its community.

This type of individual sacrifice is still made by thousands of independent pharmacists and their families. Independent community pharmacy is more than a job, more than a profession, it’s a way of life, but you already know that.

We heard the words of gratitude for that sacrifice recently at the All-Party Pharmacy Group parliamentary debate. We heard the words of thanks, but we are still failing to see any outcome. The words are no longer enough, even if those from the pharmacy minister, Jo Churchill, were intriguing, with the implication that smaller pharmacies should be treated differently to larger multinationals. But what does that mean? I found myself yelling back at the TV looking for a response!

While the parliamentarians debate, contractors go through yet another month waiting to hear about Covid advances and additional services.

Another frustrating month goes by with no news and the frustration turns to anger. One of the few good things about the five-year fixed funding contract was that we were supposed to have certainty. Well, that’s disappearing now as well, and I don’t think it is just me feeling the pressure and uncertainty.

I am fortunate to meet up virtually with pharmacists from across the country every six weeks or so. A year after Covid took over our professional and personal lives, I can see the pharmacists I rely on as my support network are as tired as I am. We are all tired, and so are our teams. This makes the additional financial pressures and uncertainties unnecessarily cruel.

Yet our teams are still performing for the people we serve. We are still all adapting. We are jumping through the never-ending hoops of the PQS (I don’t see my GP colleges doing much to achieve their QOF targets at the moment), learning how to adapt to the new essential Discharge Medicines Service, and working through the new processes of GP Community Pharmacist Consultation Service and social distancing within a consultation room.

In Cornwall we are updating our minor ailment schemes to include new conditions. This is great and I am really pleased that our commissioners still want to invest in our sector. And that is the point. Our profession is always evolving, and as independent community pharmacists, we are ready to be entrepreneurial.

We know our communities. We have chosen a way of life, not just a career, and the decision makers can believe in us to be their true partner in the primary care world because we deliver whenever we are asked to step up. Without wanting to sounding condescending or patronising, I am so proud of all that we have achieved over the last 12 months.

One of the pharmacists I work with keeps saying ‘go team’ but on this occasion I will give the last words to Murray Walker: “I have to stop now as I have a lump in my throat.”

Nick Kaye is a pharmacist in Newquay and vice-chair of the National Pharmacy Association. These are his personal views.




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