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Editor's view: Asda has not covered itself in Pharmacy First glory


Editor's view: Asda has not covered itself in Pharmacy First glory

As I read an appalling email from Asda area manager Andrew Windus this month telling branches in Manchester and Sheffield that locums who refuse to engage with Pharmacy First “for whatever reason” will be removed from its database on Locate a Locum’s platform, I wondered how on earth he was going to pull that off.

It's a very dark day for pharmacy when companies can take locums off booking platforms and databases “for whatever reason." I was also reminded that although Pharmacy First will undoubtedly benefit patients, it needs to be handled with care. Participating pharmacists need to be fully focused and prepared and I'm sure most locums will be. Yet it occurred to me a locum for Asda might hide the fact they don’t feel comfortable or competent enough to provide it and sign up to Pharmacy First just to avoid being removed. 

Personally, I hope all locums get themselves trained up to provide the scheme because it will be a brilliant service for community pharmacy and patients. But I don't speak for any locums. I wouldn't try to. Some might say if Asda only want to use locums who have an appetite for Pharmacy First, that's fair enough. But the route Windus took was an extremely poor way to go about things.

The obvious moral argument here is that punishing locums by removing them from a Locate a Locum database just because they don’t want to engage with Pharmacy First is patently wrong because many use the platform to support their livelihoods. And since community pharmacy has been talking about a workforce crisis in recent years, especially the Company Chemists' Association of whom Asda are a member, the idea of removing locums from a database they use to find work strikes me as utterly absurd.

But this runs deeper. The concern is that Windus’s message, published on social media and in the pharmacy press, has created an atmosphere of fear at Asda which cannot be healthy for its locums and, by extension, its patients.

That’s where the General Pharmaceutical Council come in. They should be investigating Windus’s message and taking steps to ensure his awful threat goes no further than an email, despite Asda’s reassurances that it is supporting its pharmacists “to feel confident” to provide Pharmacy First and encouraging them to “come to us with any concerns they may have.”

The GPhC said it was “planning to write to pharmacy owners and superintendent pharmacists…in relation to safely providing a wider range of services including Pharmacy First.” But it also said it “wouldn’t give a view” on whether it would “investigate an individual case.”

Critics who have doubted the GPhC’s ability or willingness to crack down on the multiples will be watching developments with interest.



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