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An Onlooker's Notebook - June 2017

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An Onlooker's Notebook - June 2017

I was not surprised to read that Sue Sharpe had decided to call it a day as chief executive of the PSNC at the end of the year. She has been in the hot seat for 16 years and few can doubt that negotiating with the Department of Health (DH) can have been anything other than a wearing experience. As I have noted before, for many years there has been an institutional prejudice against community pharmacy at the DH, and the recently imposed cuts are a prime (and undoubtedly the worst) demonstration of that. There must be a limit on how long one can knock one’s head against a brick wall. Sue’s fi rst taste of pharmacy institutions came when she was appointed head of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS’s) law department in 1991, when the Society was still the regulator. She proved a capable team leader and was held in high regard by those who worked for her, so much so that two of them joined her at the PSNC later in their careers. Sue was also to meet her husband at the RPS. David Sharpe was a formidable Council member and ex-President at a time when the Society’s governing body had far more substance to it than seems to be the case nowadays. David is also a one-time chairman of the PSNC.

Also in the news is Archie Norman, who is to become chairman of Marks & Spencer. He used to be CEO of Asda, in which capacity he was against controlled entry to pharmacy contracts. As a result of pressure by him and others in the business community, Patricia Hewitt, when Health Secretary, introduced the so-called balanced package of measures to relax entry controls. One of the relaxations led to 100-hour pharmacies opening in substantial numbers. This, in turn, led to the current situation where the government reckons there are too many pharmacies and is cutting remuneration to force closures. This has made the usual strained relationship between pharmacy leaders and the DH even worse. The Scottish government did not succumb to pressure on control of entry, and there was no balance package of measures north of the border. Relations between community pharmacy and the Scottish health department are correspondingly better.

Watching the BBC News the other day I was pleased to see a young pharmacist, Thorrun Govind, given air time to explain the role of community pharmacists and to say why the remuneration cut would be so damaging. I thought that she might have been put forward for this by the National Pharmacy Association or the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. But, no. This was all her own work. Thorrun had been sending out her views on Twitter, and when the BBC wanted someone to talk about what reasons people might have to support a particular party in the election they went to her. Thorrun describes herself as one-person pressure group. The sooner one of the pharmacy bodies signs her up the better.

I have known quite a few chief pharmacists in my time, but none has ever got quite such a bad press as the current incumbent Keith Ridge. I have even read recently a call for his resignation from a former member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Council. I don’t remember ever seeing a public call for a CPO to stand down before. Dr Ridge seems to be shouldering most of the blame for the current treatment of community pharmacy in England. I don’t think this is entirely fair. I have often commented (as above) on the institutional prejudice that the DH has towards us. But this long predates Dr Ridge’s arrival around a dozen years ago. What might be said is that the situation does not seem to have improved during his tenure.

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