IN 2008, I was working as a pharmacist in Ireland. The Irish economy had collapsed and the Government of the day was cutting everything including pharmacy. I found myself in an interesting position, where I was kind of on both sides of the fence. Being a pharmacist I was fully aware of all the anger and arguments against the cuts. I was also fully aware of the Governments position and all the arguments in favour of the cuts, as my Dad was an elected member of that Government.
I was privy to some of the backroom talk on both sides. The cuts were implemented despite heavy resistance from the pharmacy sector, and to be honest the politicians were in complete control of the whole process from start to finish. People tend to underestimate politicians, they are a lot more capable and impressive than how they are represented. Running countries is an extremely difficult task and can make the brightest and the strongest appear weak and incompetent.
Comparing what happened in Ireland then, to what is happening in the UK now, is not comparing like with like. The Irish economy at that time was very much in a different state to the UK economy now. And the Irish pharmacy sector is very different to the UK pharmacy sector. However, I do think there will be some parallels to the process, and I am very curious to see how the whole thing pans out.
Do I think the petition will have any influence on the Governments decision making? No.
However, I do think the petition is worthwhile. I have already seen first-hand how the petition is building rapport between pharmacy staff and patients. It will motivate staff by highlighting to them how much their services are valued and appreciated by the public and it will create awareness of the cuts to the public which may have some influence in how people vote in the next election.
The big thing the petition will do is build awareness that the cuts are happening because outside the in house pharmacy publications and websites, you are not going to hear much mention, debate or otherwise about these cuts in the media. There are a lot of exciting things going on this year that make for much better stories than pharmacy cuts: US president election, EU referendum and Euro football championships for example. From a political viewpoint, it’s a clever time to make the cuts. The Governments goal will be to slip this through as quietly as possible.
Do I think the cuts will be implemented? Yes.
I believe this Government has bought into austerity, and the implementation of austerity 100 per cent. I believe George Osborne and David Cameron are on a Captain Ahab mission. Every year the evidence in favour of austerity gets thinner and thinner, and yet the enthusiasm for its implementation gets greater and greater. The Government has ignored all the evidence that shows that austerity will not achieve the objectives it was implement to achieve i.e. reduce the deficit and revive the economy. So, I don’t really see any reason why they will take on board any evidence presented to them that cuts to pharmacy will cost them more in the long run.
Do I think there is any way the cuts might not be implement?
The only way I can see the cuts not being implemented, and it is a long shot but anything can happen in politics, is if the Government collapses due to in-fighting and a split down the middle of the Conservative Party over the EU referendum. That would lead to a very, very, early general election and perhaps now there would be a chance of a new Government being elected with a mandate to abandon austerity. It is an extreme long shot, I really don’t think they will be foolish enough to let power slip from their hands over EU membership.
Is there any hope for the future of pharmacy? Yes.
I believe that pharmacy could use this whole situation massively to its advantage. The Government’s main objective is to reduce the money its pays out. Full stop, that’s it. Any negotiations with this Government for additional revenue now or in the future will be difficult. However the pharmacy sector could negotiate with the Government for policy changes that could lead to alternative revenue streams for the industry.
Is there any possible alternative revenue streams? Yes.
A global regulated cannabis industry is taking root in North America. The seeds of a global regulated cannabis industry are literally being planted from California to Colorado to Washington State to Jamaica to Uruguay and right across Canada but don’t take my word for it. Read this front page article from the Economist magazine.
The pharmacy sector in the UK should be putting its case forward to be the main retailer of this new industry, and the UK should be getting involved now so that it can become a global leader. The global medical and recreational cannabis market is going to be huge. Hedge funds in American are already investing heavily.
Bod Marleys family and estate has done a deal for a range of medical and recreational branded products that analysts predict will easily make him the highest earning dead celebrity. It is going to be a global gold rush. And it looks like Canada and the US are going to leave the UK, Europe and the rest of the World behind and corner as much of the market as possible for themselves.
Peter Kelly is a London based pharmacist