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Viewpoint: Perception is everything - isn’t it?


Viewpoint: Perception is everything - isn’t it?

The lesson from January is that people’s perceptions are important, even if they don’t reflect your reality. Patrick Grice explains...


One of my erstwhile colleagues used to have a favourite saying that he would trot out regularly in all sorts of situations.

“Perception is everything,” he would pronounce. He worked selling advertising and in his line of business it may well have been true.

There have been a couple of instances in the past month, though, when I have wondered whether his pearl of wisdom might apply to community pharmacy because, if perception is everything, community pharmacists seem to have a perception problem.

You may think that the comments made on ITV’s This Morning programme about pharmacists display an unwelcome level of ignorance – and they do - but if the presenters and guests are honestly reflecting their perceptions, then that probably is the reality for many people who visit community pharmacies week in, week out.

Comments in a similar vein appear in draft Quality Standard from NICE – ‘Community pharmacies: promoting health and wellbeing’ – which noted: “Lack of awareness of the skills and knowledge of community pharmacy teams among members of the public and health and social care practitioners, as well as a long-held view of a community pharmacist being responsible mainly for dispensing medicines, presents a barrier to community pharmacies fulfilling their full potential.”

Changing public perceptions is a bit like getting a supertanker to change course – it takes constant pressure on the rudder over a prolonged period – but if community pharmacies are to make a success of the CPCS, fully engage with PCNs and own the health living agenda, then it can’t be too soon to start.

How to alter the perception that community pharmacy isn’t all about dispensing medicines is a conundrum, though. The RPS, NPA et al will say they have been pushing this message for years. The difference now, though, is that there are nationally supported NHS services that demonstrate that community pharmacies do more than dispense medicines, rather than ‘here today, decommissioned tomorrow’ local services.

The message to the folk on This Morning and their ilk is that they are behind the times – always an awkward position to be in if you fancy yourself as an opinion former. And if others are banging your drum it helps. NHS England has been helpful with its publicity about the CPCF, and the Welsh health minister is a good advocate.

But the real lasting change of perception can only come through an understanding and appreciation of the service that people get when they step through the door.


Premises registration fees

There is no doubt about the perception that most pharmacy owners have of the proposed increase in the pharmacy premises registration fee. The 39 per cent hike from £262 to £365, which the GPhC says is the gap between the existing fee and the actual cost of regulating each pharmacy in 2018-19, is seen as rather steep.

The proposed rise will generate additional income of £1.47 million for the GPhC in the 12 months from October 2020. “Pharmacy contractors are bound to ask if the regulator is working as hard as pharmacies themselves to deliver efficiencies” was the knee jerk reaction from the NPA.

The cynic in me says this sort of consultation, like those carried out by HR departments in large companies, is basically telling you what is going to happen. It is more of a ‘point of information’ notice. And I’m no accountant, but I do wonder why an organisation like the GPhC, with annual expenditure of around £24 million, needs to operate with a general reserve of £7.2 million. Perhaps it is time to put some of it to use.

The GPhC is also warning of more ‘consultations’ to come. These might include a scale of fees for premises based on their type, turnover or other size measures, and the possibility of charging directly for additional regulatory activities such as re-inspections.

For individual pharmacists the GPhC is looking to explore the possibility of setting fees for all registrant groups over a longer period; for example by linking to inflation over a three year period or setting fees to increase each year by a certain, fixed percentage over a set period.

The most interesting part of the consultation is the business impact assessment carried out by Ernst & Young. Quite why the GPhC felt this expense was necessary is unclear since the report finds the blindingly obvious: that the premises fee increase will not have a significant impact on the financial performance of pharmacies.

For most independent pharmacies the registration fee is yet another incidental expense. It is a cost of doing business, an irritation out of all proportion to the amount because there is nothing you can do about it.

The impact assessment looked at five large pharmacy chains, five medium-sized chains, 20 small/independent pharmacies and three online business – representing 38 per cent of pharmacies nationally. The headline finding is that the sector is demonstrating ‘notable fragility with 52 per cent of organisations in deficit’.

The assessment also notes that geographically isolated small/independent pharmacies are more likely to be in deficit, which should ring alarm bells given the phasing out of allowances under the current 5 year CPCF agreement.

If the GPhC wanted independent evidence that community pharmacy is under financial pressure then the impact assessment might have been money well spent after all.



The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has been advertising for a superhuman – otherwise known as a Head of Engagement & Belonging. If you fancied the £50,000 a year salary that goes with the job you have missed the boat, since applications closed on February 5.

The role offers the successful applicant the opportunity to help set the strategy for RPS around how it best represents and engages with members. “You will (sic) partner across all levels of the organisation, developing, implementing and tracking progress against strategic initiatives designed to enrich our approach to engagement and belonging.

“You’ll create a strategy to improve diversity, inclusion and belonging, both in RPS and our profession. You will also contribute significantly to the development and delivery of a first-class membership strategy.

“The successful candidate will meet and engage with RPS members, create and organise member networking events and promote the role of the pharmacy profession in healthcare delivery to key stakeholders including public and NHS.”

Requirements for the job were listed as:

·       Exquisite leadership and judgement

·       An ability to effectively engage and influence stakeholders at all levels

·       Extensive project management experience

·       Proven ability to research issues, develop web stories and press releases

·       Experience in diversity and inclusion projects.

Pharmacy experience, though, is not considered essential.

The job ad was commented on by Martin Plackard, a well know personality from NHS Blithering who features regularly on the NHS News Network blog. His CV features a number of leadership roles in impact, euphemism management and talent delivery. He claims previous job titles include:

·       Director of buy-in

·       Head of meaningful co-production and stakeholder outreach strategy

·       Director of person-centredness and digital intimacy

·       Head of meaningful feedback (later shortened simply to ‘head of meaning’)

·       Associate director of listening

·       Director of stakeholder nurture and realtime feedback.

As a colleague commented: “It comes to something when your professional body is the basis of a weekly spoof blog!”

I look forward to seeing who fills the post – she or he certainly has a job on their hands!


Patrick Grice is the contributing editor of Independent Community Pharmacist.

Picture: PeopleImages (iStock)

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