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Do we really need community pharmacies? Pulse misses the point

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Ross Ferguson
Ross Ferguson


IN his leader yesterday, Nigel Praities, editor of Pulse, turned all tabloid on us. And by us, I mean community pharmacy. Playing to the audience of 43,000 GPs, he said: “If you designed the NHS from scratch I doubt anyone would invent pharmacies.”

He goes on to say pharmacists are “brilliant at what they do”, but questions “the current position, where their skills are based in a building a few streets away, tucked behind shelves of corn plasters and toothpaste.”

And he asked: “Why are we continuing to support this bizarre arrangement when everyone recognises that NHS services must work better together to improve care?”

By his own admission, Nigel was being provocative and extrapolated his reasoning from a previous article from a GP, who listed a number of ways in which the NHS could save money: “Sack pharmacists. Let’s face it, if you were designing the NHS from scratch, you wouldn’t invent pharmacists, would you? They’re just GP wannabes who, medication-wise, duplicate what we do, but badly. To stock shelves and count pills, you just need a level of consciousness, not a pharmacy degree.”

I know this may come as a shock, but GP practices aren’t the centre of the healthcare universe. We don’t judge the value of other services on their proximity to a building containing GPs.

Being “a few streets away” – shudder at the thought – from GP practices doesn’t make us less relevant, it makes us more relevant, because we are where the people are: council estates, rural locations, the centre of communities. It might not be glamorous, but people can turn up without an appointment, in a less formal environment, to get information, advice, empathy, support and much, much more.

Pharmacies are the beating hearts of their communities and we are valued by the people we help – just look at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) petition against the pharmacy cuts, which now has over 1 million signatures (patients somehow managed to navigate their way to these pharmacies despite them being a few streets away from GP practices – imagine that).

Yes, it’s time to break down the traditional barriers for the benefit of patients and the NHS, but that’s exactly why we can’t safely pack up all pharmacies and relocate them to GP practices. Do they really want an extra 1.6 million people trudging across their doorsteps every day?

We need to forge closer ties with GPs and other healthcare colleagues, continue to leverage the benefits of our location, and we do need to think differently to help save the NHS £22 billion, but patients need to be at the centre of this (something you fail to mention). Let’s start there instead of continuing to bleat about the recommissioning of the flu vaccination service (which is clearly valued by patients).

It isn’t about them and us anymore. Time to move the debate on. We need to work together. Complete, not compete.

So Nigel, here’s an open invite, you clearly don’t understand what happens in community pharmacies and the benefits we provide to patients and the NHS (over and above our contracted terms). How would you like to spend a full day in a community pharmacy then rewrite your leader? Or would that not go down as well with your audience?

Ross Ferguson is an ex-contractor, he also has experience as a locum and an employee pharmacist. He is a pharmacy & healthcare writer, member of the RPS Faculty and has created a children’s medicines app, Kid-Dose

Follow Ross @rosshferguson


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