The best of times, and the worst of times

There has never been a more exciting time to be a pharmacist, NHS England’s deputy chief pharmacist Dr Bruce Warner told a Pharmacy Show audience last month (p4). And if you read the coverage of our Independent Pharmacy Awards (p14), you would be hard pressed to disagree.

The dedication, innovation and professionalism shown by this year’s award winners is truly inspiring and suggests a resilience and optimism among independent contractors that will allow them to continue doing great things for patient care far into the future. And good news travels fast. Dr Warner told the same audience about the groundbreaking work of Jackie and Martyn Lewis, winners of our Innovation Award only a couple of weeks earlier, hailing their efforts as something for others to aspire to.

Triumph often results from adversity, and there is no doubt that contractors have their backs to the wall at the moment. Whether the tremendous pressure on independent pharmacists is the best way to ‘encourage’ them to new heights of commitment and innovation is debateable. But the NHS looks set to squeeze every last drop of effort from community pharmacy as cuts continue and those that don’t adapt may well go out of business.

Dr Warner did not mince his words about the pain to come for the sector, and some of his arguments rang uncomfortably true. After all, it’s not easy to make a case for several NHS-funded pharmacies on the same high street while hospital wards are closing, waiting lists lengthen and patients are denied expensive drugs.

Hard choices lie ahead. Dispensing hubs look set to force pharmacies to deliver more services. That’s great if you’re willing, able, and can access funding for those services. Otherwise, you’ll suddenly have a lot more time for sudoku. The Society seems happy to abandon the security of a national contract altogether, and if that happens all the talents on display at our awards will no longer be icing on the cake, but essential survival skills.

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