I spent an hour recently in a dispensary waiting to interview the pharmacist. It was mayhem. That is by no means being derogatory to the highly organised pharmacist, who was on top of her game, or her excellent (and sufficient in numbers) support staff. It was simply the sheer number of demands she was juggling as the tumult raged around her. It was humbling and rather scary.
The pressures on community pharmacists are enormous and growing all the time. In the circumstances, the quality of care they provide – and how safely they provide it – is remarkable. But very rarely, when things go wrong, there can be tragic consequences. We all know that.
The BBC’s Inside Out programme has sparked a huge debate about workload pressures and patient safety in community pharmacy. It is a debate that is long overdue as the issue has been brushed under the carpet for too long. The pharmacy practice model is falling apart and the strain on teams is becoming intolerable.
Earlier this month Pulse said GP practices were “close to collapse” amid rising workload pressures. Are pharmacies facing a similar situation?
Minimum staffing levels, self-checking, the role of both employers and the regulator, support for whistleblowing – these are sector-wide issues that need to be addressed urgently. And we can’t forget that all this is taking place against a background of savage funding cuts that can only undermine patient care and safety. The Government can’t wriggle out of this. It also has some tough questions to answer.