Here’s hoping for a less interesting 2023
This year will go some way to determining if the RSG reforms underway at PSNC and LPCs will work. Elsewhere, things are looking a little better for the regulator and the RPS will have a new president, says Mohammed Hussain…
“May you live in interesting times” is an apocryphal Chinese curse that sounds like a blessing. The year 2022 was a very interesting time in the pharmacy sector. In the UK, it was the year of five education secretaries, four chancellors, three prime ministers, two monarchs and a partridge in a pear tree.
Only a fool would wager a prediction for the future based on 2022. First, some numbers. The number of pharmacies in England decreased for another year, down to 11,522 from a high of 11,972 in 2016. The last few years have seen relentless operational pressures on pharmacies, from funding cuts to the pandemic, and now the horrors of rampant inflation. We have seen businesses dispensing at a loss and a long running supply chain crisis.
The government is always quick to look to community pharmacy to support the vaccines roll-out (4.8 million flu jabs alone), ease GP access and A&E demand, but the proverbial cheque is always in the post.
And here’s some more numbers. The demands on pharmacists were not without consequence. Pharmacist Support, the profession’s charity, and where I also started 2022 as a new trustee, released data showing 12,795 acts of support were delivered online, 290 counselling sessions were delivered and 79 grants, totalling £86,000, were awarded. It’s tough out there and pharmacists are feeling the pressure.
The year began with Dr Keith Ridge retiring and David Webb moving in as the new chief pharmaceutical officer for England. Perhaps it will signal a change of approach and a time to turn a new leaf in relations with government. Time will tell, although early signals have been positive.
And how did the major pharmacy organisations fare in 2022? Perhaps a footballing analogy is apt as this was the year of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society were the Costa Rica of the World Cup Finals. Costa Rica conceded the most goals of any team, 11 in total.
Unfortunately for the RPS, all its goals against were own goals. The year started badly, with the former president revealing “official secrets” by tweeting that the RPS had secretly left the International Pharmaceutical Federation and then decided not to tell anyone. Worse still, news broke, via Twitter, that the RPS had also abandoned its aspirations to become a Royal College.
As the RPS tried to right itself in stormy seas of its own making – first one, then two, then three directors left the organisation. By the end of the year, the RPS had completed a U-turn and decided to re-join FIP after significant pressure from the membership.
An independent review of the RPS found that the organisation was perceived as opaque, secretive and disengaged. To top it all, the RPS submitted its response to the Independent Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership, arguing that technicians should be a part of the RPS and, presumably, their current professional body be disbanded. True to form, the RPS had not discussed any of this with the technicians, resulting in a sharp rebuke.
Perhaps the memoirs of the RPS president or chair will be called ‘Spare,’ following in the footsteps of another failing institution, and describing the internal shenanigans of an increasingly irrelevant organisation.
I will make one prediction for 2023: the English Pharmacy Board chair, Thorrun Govind, will succeed Claire Anderson as president of the RPS, because that’s what the RPS does.
The GPhC showed it could finally run an exam without complete chaos, after a calamitous preregistration exam performance in 2021 and a chaotic exam in July 2022, but the November exam was less problematic. The overall pass rate was 80 per cent and 56 per cent for the June and November sittings, respectively.
The GPhC’s data also revealed that black students still fare worse than any other demographic, although the gap appears to have narrowed. We also saw in the fitness-to-practise data that pharmacists from minority groups continued to be over-represented, with the GPhC finally confirming that it would begin to anonymise FtP cases reviewed in the early stages of consideration.
It's only taken 10 years of talking about taking some action. The wheels of equality turn slowly but, as Martin Luther King said, the path bends towards justice. Where is the inclusive pharmacy practice work and how is it helping with these important, long-standing problems?
Workforce challenges became worse. The chickens came home to roost after a decade of ineffective workforce strategy, with PCNs and CCGs sucking pharmacists and technicians out of secondary care and community pharmacy.
Locums’ rates shot up, employers and locums blamed each other for pharmacy closures and no-one did anything to intervene. The poor patients who cannot access their medicines were left to fend for themselves, and the regulator and NHS teams absolved themselves of all responsibility to address the problem.
The PSNC managed to get the votes required to push ahead with the review steering group (RSG) proposals – a new dawn for pharmacy representation or another cul-de-sac? Only time will tell.
Last year also saw three different health secretaries. We had Sajid Javid, Stephen Barclay, Thérèse Coffey … and Barclay again. The health service is in crisis, real term funding was down and demand is higher than ever before. This meant the priority was another unnecessary NHS reorganisation. Farewell CCGs, welcome ICBs and ICSs, because that’s the change that will improve patient care and NHS capacity.
The year 2022 ended with an antibiotic shortage, a surging Covid wave and the whole country on strike. I hope 2023 is less interesting.
Mohammed Hussain is an independent contractor and non-executive director of Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust.