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A vision for community pharmacy in the 21st century – Hemant Patel

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Hemant Patel

STEVIE Nicks’ lyric from Landslide: “I’ve been afraid of changing, because I’ve built my life around you”, sums up the state of affairs in community pharmacy worldwide. With changes in commissioning, finances, technology and robotics, and a need for new learning and consumer empowerment, we must be brave and forward-looking. We are presented with a unique opportunity to reposition community pharmacy and we must seize this opportunity gratefully and with commitment.

My committee is agreed that we must jointly confront the ‘sacred cows’ of modern pharmacy politics and economic thought, exposing why deregulation might destroy the profession, the unpalatable truth about patient safety when taking medicines, why changes to the pharmacy network could destabilise communities, and the cost of a welfare state that doesn’t deliver welfare.

We must also attend prudently to both short-term and long-term goals. Tycoon Sir James Goldsmith once wrote: “Muddling through is a euphemism for failing to plan forward. It means acting tactically and without a strategy; it means confusing the means with the end… If we continue to avoid facing the facts… the epitaph on the grave of our democracy will be: ‘They sacrificed the long-term for the short-term, and the long-term finally arrived’.”

Too often, the long-term is forsaken. And does the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ afflict practitioners only? No. Do representative organisations and governments also have a predominantly fire-fighting mentality? Yes. Does this phenomenon apply at all scales? Yes.

Bill Gates of Microsoft said: “Robots, pervasive screens, speech interaction will all change the way we look at ‘computers’. Once seeing, hearing, and reading (including handwriting) work very well you will interact in new ways.”

But, we should not be afraid of the robots as much as the artificial intelligence (AI). In combination, the robots and AI could easily destroy the profession of pharmacy unless urgent action is taken now to reposition community pharmacy.

To thrive as a profession in the next 30 years, pharmacy must become a caregiver as the jobs of the future, competing with automation, will require human intelligence, personalisation, new skills
and compassion.

It is clear to me that we have to look to the whole and to the parts, to the present and the future. The law of change states that everything is in the process of becoming something else. Change happens everywhere and with everyone, and it happens constantly.

Leaders especially must address the paradox of these challenges and we must help and empower our practitioner colleagues to adapt by a change in mindset. And ‘we’ means all of those with a stake in the outcome, whether we talk about governments, commissioners, the public, the educators, suppliers of medicines or the representative bodies.

I thank my committee members and my colleague, Bhavin Patel, for their expert input and support to create a new vision for community pharmacy that has attracted universal local support from commissioners, pharmacists and patient representative organisations.

Hemant Patel is Secretary, North-East London Local Pharmaceutical Committee

To register and read North-East London Local Pharmaceutical Committee’s document Indispensable: A vision for pharmacy in the 21st century, click here .

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