Be honest – were you at the CPNI AGM?
We need less navel gazing of our own businesses and more interest in the work that Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland does on our behalf, says Terry Maguire…
As one of the very few people who attended the 2023 Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland AGM at 4pm on June 8, I was keen to ask a number of questions under agenda item ‘Any Other Business.’
It was a poorly attended meeting. We were 11, I think, and I doubt if a quorum had been present if important business needed transacting; thankfully, there was none. The AGM was conveniently tagged on to the end of the June monthly CPNI board meeting but even then, most of the board members, it seemed, had taken their daily fee and were well on their way home.
My opportunity to ask questions came soon enough as we sprinted through the uncontentious generic agenda that guides every AGM of every organisation. I had three questions, one of which was ‘why did the CPNI block the roll-out of the pharmacy first UTI and winter pressures services in December 2022?’
The chair took my questions with ease and competence. The CPNI had nothing whatsoever to do with blocking or stopping pharmacy first services in December 2022. It was solely a decision made by the SPPG, the health board.
It was a clear and concise answer to my question, yet I felt subtly admonished for asking it. Where the chair’s reply was polite enough, I couldn’t help but sense that he felt my imposition irritating, articulating within his answers how hard the CPNI directors work, in such difficult circumstances, on behalf of members.
And maybe this was right and I was being unreasonable. Maybe I should beg forgiveness and keep my big mouth shut. I am a strong supporter of democracy and, call me old fashioned, but everyone who leads an organisation needs to be accountable to the members of that organisation.
I was an advocate – the only advocate it seems – for holding an AGM which, remarkably, the CPNI failed to do for the first 16 years of its life. For me, the complete lack of interest from contractors when an AGM was finally held suggests I am in the extreme minority and strongly hints that this means oversight or scrutiny of CPNI is frankly unnecessary.
Readers of this column might remember in a previous post that I expressed concerns with the way the sustainability report was kept from independent contractors. At the time of writing, that post I had not seen the report or read its contents. In early July, I was sent a copy.
In the report, still deemed confidential by the CPNI, I found the following statement referring to discussions between CPNI and SPGG in December 2022. “The planned roll out of pharmacy first winter pressures and UTI service would not proceed, as advised by CPNI, with funding instead allocated to adherence.”
Naturally, I was concerned given my reading of this sentence and the answer I had received at the AGM, so I followed it up and was assured, with supporting email correspondence, that SPPG, unable in December 2023 to find £3 million to honour its full commitment of £21 million for the adherence service, had taken the decision that it would redirect this money initially allocated for pharmacy first winter pressures and UTI.
I was also reassured that CPNI, impressed with the stability and sustainability of funding for Scottish community pharmacy, is developing a vision and strategy for the network here.
There is little doubt, whatever SPPG might think, that the funding model is broken and some fresh thinking is needed to move away from our reactionary negotiations to a shared future for the community pharmacy network.
I am also assured that the DoH is certainly keen to explore a common and shared destination for the network and its role as a vital component of our health service. The challenge for independent contractors now is how we individually and collectively influence and support this new vision and strategy.
For too long, both the DoH and SPPG have been focused on a clear plan for the network, but this has been systematically disrupted by, often justifiable, claims of underfunding.
I suppose a first step is for each of us to go beyond the navel gazing of our own businesses and take more interest in the work that CPNI does on behalf of us all.
That would mean, at least, taking the time out not only to attend the AGM but also to ask some important and meaningful questions that would push a positive vision forward.
Terry Maguire is a leading community pharmacist in Northern Ireland.