As many readers of this column will be aware, Pharmacy Voice will cease to operate in a few months’ time. At this point we are still deciding how and when. The constitution of the company does not allow for it to continue when one of the three member associations (NPA, AIMp and CCA) has given notice, as the NPA did at the end of 2016.
Whether Pharmacy Voice exists as the vehicle to support, represent and deliver change on behalf of the community pharmacy sector is no longer the issue. The question is whether the sector still has an important journey to go on collectively, and if so how does it find a new mode of transport when the Pharmacy Voice vehicle is left by the roadside.
I am quite clear, as I believe others are, that the journey is not only desirable but essential. While the NHS grapples with ever increasing demand and a shortfall in capacity within primary care, it cannot continue to find the answers without looking in the direction of pharmacy. It is astonishing that the sector has been unable to place itself in a position where the NHS and the Department of Health were knocking on our doors and asking for help in solving the health service crisis. On the contrary, the recent cuts indicate a lack of real understanding of the potential of pharmacy.
Whose fault is that? Should we lay all the blame at the feet of successive ministers, Department of Health officials and NHSE, or should we look in the mirror? Has the contribution of those who represent community pharmacy – independents and multiples – been good enough to make the case over many years?
I don’t need to answer that question, as readers will have their own views. Let’s focus on what we can do now. Last year Pharmacy Voice published, in collaboration with PSNC and the RPS, the Community Pharmacy Forward View. This was drawn together with the experiences and views of community pharmacists across the sector who created a realistic vision of how pharmacy could be in the future. The title was deliberate; the context was the NHS’s own vision for the next few years – the Five Year Forward View. Our vision was not of a distant future but one that is already a reality in many pharmacies across the country.
The question is whether the sector still has an important journey to go on collectively
The challenge for us is to mainstream those ideas and practices so they are delivered consistently by the many, not the few. If we want to be taken seriously by NHSE as a reliable outlet for delivery in a rapidly changing health service, then the sector has to be consistently and extensively delivering, or at the very least looking like it wants to, and must also be ready to go if given the right encouragement.
The CPFV was widely welcomed. The Pharmacy Minister David Mowat described it as “spot on”, and many pharmacists have commented that this is a vision they can work with. Having the details of the destination has been a real step forward, but we needed a clear road map to help the sector and its partners understand how to get there.
Last month, after lots of debate and deliberation, we finally published the second, and I would argue the most important, part of the CPFV. In ‘Making it Happen’, the national pharmacy organisations take the next step toward turning both the Community Pharmacy Forward View vision and the Murray Review recommendations into reality by setting out pathways through which the policy change, professional development, service redesign and partnership working will need to operate if we are to enable community pharmacy to play its full role within an integrated health and care system.
I encourage you to look at the website and contribute to the discussions and feedback. This journey to a better destination will only work if all those with an interest in the sector are on the charabanc together. Making it Happen means we need to change the way in which pharmacy teams are utilised so we get the best from the workforce and skill mix. We need to harness the technology available to integrate with the NHS and provide faster and more efficient services for patients. We need local contractors and their teams to work with other local providers and be adaptable and innovative, and we need leadership at all levels to be lined up, on board, briefed and energised with the same zeal.
Of course there are different hurdles that independent and multiple contractors will face. Commercial decisions and ways of working may be different, but please don’t let those differences be the reason for the sector not to come together on this vital journey.
While Pharmacy Voice will not be the vehicle for the journey, the sector will in due course have to decide on what is, and make it one that can accommodate all of those with a genuine, committed passion for reaching a new destination. Just make sure you don’t miss the bus!